What does it mean to “Tend to Eden”?

Written by Plant With Purpose on April 19, 2010 in General

By Kate McElhinney

Want to learn more about what the Bible has to say about caring for the environment? Or maybe you’re wondering how the environment impacts the lives of the poor. Plant With Purpose’s Executive Director, Scott Sabin, has recently written a book that answers these questions, and more.

Here is a sneak peek from pages 22 to 24 in Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People.

“In December 1997 Plant With Purpose’s technical director, Bob Morikawa, and our new Haitian director, Jean-Mari Desilus

(whom we called Dezo), traveled with me to the Haitian village ofKavanac. The sun beat down on us as we walked a steep, narrow

path between hillside farms, their tiny fields separated from one

another by loose rock walls. Ragged corn struggled through the rocks on either side of us. My lunch was not sitting well.

After we’d crossed one ridge and were on our way up a second

long slope, I told the others I needed a rest. As I sat on a large stone, contemplating the hill in front of me, two elderly women

came up the hill, five-gallon buckets of water balanced on their heads. “Bon swa, blan,” they greeted me. They asked where we

were going, and Dezo told them we were headed to a village meeting in Kavanac. The older woman said they were on their way to

the same meeting. “We’ll let them know you will be along in a

while,” she said with a teasing grin.

At the top of the last ridge, I could see the Caribbean to the

south, Haiti’s tallest mountain, Pic La Selle, shrouded in cloudsto the east, and the brilliant blue water of the Bay of Port-au-

Prince to the north. A little farther along the ridge sat a group ofabout forty farmers, men and women, in an open-sided lean-to

made of wood and corrugated tin. When we reached them, several sidled up tome and discreetly held out their hands while rubbing

their stomachs.

I shook my head, indicating I had nothing to give them.

The meeting convened and moved past pleasantries to a series of questions from the community as to what Plant With Purpose

intended to do in the village. A woman stood and, in a confrontational tone, told me about the other humanitarian agencies that

had worked in the area. She named two agencies that had brought food and clothes, then left and never returned. “How is Plant With

Purpose going to be any different?”

After giving the question some consideration, I responded,

“Well, first of all, we are not going to give you anything.” She looked stunned.

“Second, we are not going to leave until you ask us to.”

The woman stood there, speechless.

Once we understand God’s heart for justice and the vicious cycle of deforestation and poverty that traps the poor, how do we

respond? The desire to help is admirable in a world where far too many pass by on the other side of the road. But determining how

to respond can be complicated.

I was originally drawn to the work of serving the poor and hungry

because it seemed simple, unambiguous, and virtuous. I had studied political science and was often struck by the moral ambiguity

and unexpected consequences of most policy choices. Well intended programs often had the opposite effect of what their

drafters expected. The most well-meaning projects could cause great harm. As I was to discover, humanitarian work can be nearly

as complicated.

Many humanitarian organizations respond to poverty and

injustice by giving surplus food, medicine, and clothes, and maybe starting orphanages and clinics. They focus on treating the symptoms

of poverty—which sorely need to be treated. But others ask questions about the root causes: Why are people are hungry and

sick? Why so many orphaned children?

The Bible seems pretty straightforward in its approach: give a

cup of cold water in the name of the Lord. Our first response is often to give things away. The poor clearly lack things, and we

have things, so what could be more obvious than giving out of our abundance?

Yet giving things often comes with unintended consequences.

Without knowing the needs and challenges faced by local communities, our gifts can be inappropriate. In one community where

we work, a relatively new bulldozer sat in front of a school yard for many years, slowly rusting. No doubt it was given with the

best of intentions and was probably very expensive to ship. Yet it was completely inappropriate to the local conditions. It ended up

serving as a germination bed for weeds and a few small trees before being sold for scrap.

Even when gifts are appropriate to the needs of the people, they

can often create dependency. Haiti has received numerous donations and many short-term mission teams have come to share the

gospel and build churches and school buildings. Yet there is a growing school of thought that much of our aid may be hurting

the locals.

As we were establishing Plant With Purpose in Haiti, a longtime

missionary sternly informed us that he wasn’t sure Haiti needed another well-intended nonprofit agency. “We have created

a nation of beggars,” he said. “For years folks have been coming down here thinking they are helping by giving things away. But

that just teaches people to beg.” Another missionary told me that after citizens in one village received cracked wheat from USAID,

few local farmers bothered to plant corn because they couldn’t compete with free food.

Often, the problem is less with aid itself than with how it is

applied. We tend to focus on short-term, immediate-impact solutions rather than long-term investments in people. Many Americans

have at least a passing understanding of what handouts do to initiative, self-esteem, and motivation. We talk of how a welfare

mentality creates dependency. When we see panhandlers on the street corner, most of us realize a handout won’t change their

lives. A gospel tract probably won’t do much good, either—though it may be better than handing them a dollar. Unfortunately,

we don’t always translate that understanding into our approach to the poor overseas.”

You can purchase Tending to Eden through our website here:

For every purchase that is made through our website, will donate a portion of the proceeds to Plant With Purpose, which will go toward directly benefiting the rural poor. Thank you, faithful readers, for your support! And stay tuned for more “tastes” of Tending to Eden.

Kate McElhinney serves as the Marketing Coordinator for Plant With Purpose. She plays an integral role in executing the company’s marketing campaigns and PR efforts. Kate also coordinates the annual gala and oversees the production of the company newsletter, The Sower.

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