A young mother and her two children walked down the street coming from our church’s daycare. It was their first day, and this mother was walking her children home. They obviously lived nearby, but we were alarmed to learn they lived right across the street from the church. Joining them on their stroll we struck up a conversation, the path took us past the garden. We asked if they like to eat. They laughed and responded “of course!” To that we responded, “then let’s eat!”
Immediately, we turned towards fifteen beautifully raised garden beds. The four closest to us were filled with cherry tomatoes. Before we could offer them to pick their fill, the young three-year old girl, same age as our daughter, picked a tomato and quickly ate it before her mother could object. The image of this little girl eating a fresh cherry tomato, juices and seeds sticking to her little fingers was priceless. This is what it was all about. Giving the community access to fresh organic food.
Ministering in the Desert
It began with a vision of hope for our community. Our church sits in the midst of a neighborhood food desert with crime, sickness, and poverty raiding each home. We recognized that these issues were not mutually exclusive to the systemic problems of our community. Community’s with food deserts like ours need more than simply one-time acts of charity. We need justice. The primary concern for a Christian is to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s justice. Too often justice is discussed in retributive terms, but biblically justice is restorative. Even the judgment in God’s justice is for the purpose of restoration in the earth and the human family. This is why the Hope Garden is an important justice initiative for our community, especially right now.
More grocery stores are closing, destroying more opportunities for people to find fresh food. Even the local food banks are closing down. And as healthy food becomes more scarce liquor stores are popping up in abundance. In fact, more and more liquor stores are being built in some of the most vulnerable communities. Interestingly enough, out here in Georgia, churches still outnumber liquor stores. This should compel believers to come together and speak out against the injustice happening in their communities, but unfortunately it hasn’t.
We need a plan from the city to revitalize our community, but we cannot wait for them. At Emmanuel SDA we choose to lead by example. My wife and I understand how easy it is for churches to become complacent and content remaining within their devilishly designed boxes settling for the occassional handout that fails to effect the root issues. But we want a reason to worship. We want to experience the joy of celebrating a miracle done through us. And so we planted the Hope Garden.
Birthing “Hope Team”
A team of people from my church and others quickly emerged. Tired of program focused religion and feeling a move for something greater, Hope Team was birthed. This movement is a new type of church plant that focuses more on mission instead of programming. The Hope Team searches for ways to inspire and revitalize the communities around it. So, when multiple farmers asked us if we were interested in planting a garden for the community, we felt confirmation that God was moving. The idea for the Hope Garden was planted in our hearts, and the Spirit just kept on watering it.
Soon, the local Home Depot offered to help with the project and encouraged us to write a grant. Taking their advice we wrote the grant and a month later they awarded the project $5,000. With these funds and the help of volunteer workers we built our garden beds. Soon the news media picked up the story and the word quickly got out. Since the inception of the project we have gained several partners and others have even caught the vision for their churches and communities. We’re even blessed that some developers in the city want to use our cite as a pilot for doing future gardens at other churches.
The Hope Garden Harvest
The beauty of the garden project is how so many activists and charitable agencies are seeing the value of the garden within their communities and careers. For example, those in the medical field see the value of fresh fruits and vegetables for patient prevention and recovery. This summer our church will host cooking classes featuring foods from the garden.
Those in the business sector are interested in how community members are being equipped to grow and sell their own produce. Law enforcement loves the idea of making use of void space within the community to train young people how to care for the community. Educators see the connection students can make with the practical science applications a garden creates. And most recently, we’ve partnered with the Boys and Girls clubs and city Parks and Recreation to bus children to our garden to participate in this educational experience.
Hope Garden Vision
Currently, our team is working out the logistics for distributing the food in an equitable manner. Our ultimate vision for the garden is that it become a training ground for individuals to learn how to grow their own food. We don’t want folks to solely rely on the garden for their produce needs. We want the garden to inspire, educate, and empower people.
One of our goals is to allow families portions of our land to grow their own food. We are still working out the details of how to market the project and inspire residents to take advantage of the opportunity. But we’re confident that if we continue to show them our consistency in this area then they’ll grow to trust our intentions and believe in our projected outcomes. We are starting small, but we have so much potential for growth. And we believe that as the garden grows so will our community.
Hope Garden is Hope for the Community
As I finish this article I find myself in the barber shop waiting to get a cut. Music is blasting. Every other word begins with “F”. The barbers and patrons don’t know who I am, or what I do for a living. And that’s how I like it. I love when ministry is unfiltered. Raw. Real. And based on the nature of my environment, I couldn’t help but get sucked into a good barber shop debate: “did black folks start the country music genre?” Like every good beef in the 21st century we pulled out our cell phones and let google settle it.
But any good woke brotha knows that even google can’t always be trusted. And just like that a new debater began to reel about other untrustworthy things like the processed food we eat. We began talking about Nipsey Hussle, Dr. Sebi, and nation building. At the end of our discussion we coordinated a partnership with his people and our garden to help educate and employ black men. Experiences like this have taught me to embrace the uncomfortable spaces in search for where Jesus really is. And this experience has showed me that He still lingers where the religious people least expect Him. And there is where Hope continues.