I’m not exactly sure when it happened but over the last few years I have come to absolutely love cities. The first time I lived in a city environment was in Kansas City when I worked for a summer missions organization called YouthWorks! One of the most fascinating features of that city was their ability to grow food for those who were hungry in the most random places. One of the ministries we worked with was the Kansas City Community Gardens. If you allowed them the smallest plot of land they would find a way to grow food there to help alleviate the massive amounts of hunger in their city. They would send part of our group to an elementary school play ground where they set up a small plot to grow delicious food, or maybe on the side of the highway, it was incredible. Recently on one of my many walks around the city of Atlanta, my wife and I went to Piedmont Park for a stroll. In a similar fashion there is an educational garden tended by children in Atlanta to grow vegetables and fruit trees to educate and inspire a self sustaining food source for families.
When I first came to Providence UMC in Fayetteville, GA, God quickly gave me a vision for a ministry in what I call the backyard of the church property. The Jubilee Community Garden came to me in a time of prayer when I was wondering how we could both be faithful to the resources God has given us on the vast church property as well as something that could be a year-round missions project. There is a necessity for short term missions, the youth program has both a middle school and a high school mission trip each summer both of which God does amazing things through, but I wondered if there was something we could do year-round that could proclaim good news to the hungry in our community. The Jubilee Community Garden is what I believe was God’s answer to my prayer. The word Jubilee has a different connotation in our modern context than what I am hoping to communicate by giving away food. Most people hear the word “jubilee” and think of excitement and happiness. I wanted to communicate those emotions, yes, but more so the Biblical definition. In the year of Jubilee in the Old Testament, debts were to be cancelled, indentured servants set free and the ground would lay dormant. The ironic thing about our Jubilee garden is that the point of it is not to let the ground lay dormant but to trust God to give us enough food to help those in need.
I believe God wants us to communicate freedom to those who are held captive by poverty and hunger while also growing community. Families within the Providence family and outside of it have been growing food of their own, some for the first time ever. There is a joy I have received when pulling weeds, watching tiny seeds grow into food, seeing God provide so many volunteers to work the land to alleviate hunger. I pray so often for the amazing people that have made this project possible. One of the reasons I knew this vision could have never come from me is because it was way too big. Money was donated by the missions committee, the electric fence to keep out deer was built by John Mark Wood and the men’s ministry, and a water line was trenched and hooked up by Brett Vincent and David Villars. Mitch Fralish used his eagle scout abilities to build plot boxes. Paul, AJ, Hannah, Ryan, and Karen Post have been there to do whatever necessary to keep it looking beautiful and safe. John Lacy chipped in to help get rid of weeds plaguing certain sections. Gardening advice and labor were provided by Katy Trietsch, Kimberly Beatty and family, Chrissy O’neal and family, and we also had tremendous help from farmer Jack Clower. Others have volunteered to cultivate food to donate from their own plots like Fiona Dennis. I have been overwhelmed by God’s Spirit moving among so many people in this community.
The call and mission statement of Jesus in Nazareth that he had come to proclaim good news to the poor and release to the captives still applies to us today. It doesn’t matter if it’s planting an extra row of veggies to be given to a local food pantry, volunteering time and talent at a homeless shelter or children’s home, donating blood to the Red Cross to save lives. I know that our God is still alive today working in the hearts of many who can help fulfill the good news preached by Jesus. What are some other ways that you are trying to bring the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven?
Here are some pictures of the Jubilee Community Garden from empty red clay, to a prayer-filled garden space.