Declining soil fertility, poor farm management, and population growth are contributing to low productivity and reduced soil resiliency on the majority of smallholder farms in Tanzania’s Lake Zone. Current yields are estimated to have dropped by as much as 95% over the last five decades. Many farmers are struggling to feed their families and are looking for answers.
In many of these same rural areas, there are no churches present. The people who live in these villages are intensely spiritual, but do not know Jesus Christ or that his kingdom is near. They exist between fear and fatalism, seeking to appease ancestral spirits given charge of the world by a very distant creator God. They do not understand that this creator God deeply loves them and wants to be in relationship with them — and that a life in his son is a life of great purpose, without fear.
Nearly every one of these villagers is a subsistence farmer.
Over the last year I have been developing a theology of agriculture (TA) curriculum to present in rural villages. The curriculum is designed for small group Bible studies and consists of 6-40 separate Biblical texts (depending on the format and time frame in which it is presented), and all are related to agriculture.
The TA curriculum will challenge Christians to develop a fuller understanding of the kingdom of God, of worship as a lifestyle, and of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in the world. Non-Christians will be introduced to a powerful but loving God who seeks to be in relationship with them and to invite them into true life in his kingdom.
The curriculum focuses on obedience to God’s word, rather than simply increasing knowledge of it, and it is organized around four main ideas:
- The Value of God’s Creation: God created with great wisdom, and he delights in his creation. The earth was formed through and for Christ as a testimony of his beauty and glory. God was the first farmer; he cares for his creation, sustains it, and works to enrich it.
- Farming to Bring Glory to God: Worship is a lifestyle, and a life in Christ is a life changed by the Holy Spirit. Christianity involves more than church attendance and belief in right doctrine; God will be glorified in the agricultural practices of the Christian farmer, whether it be ensuring the soil’s fertility for future generations or setting aside grain to care for those less fortunate.
- Farming as Stewardship: The earth is the Lord’s and all in it. Yet, just as he entrusted the Garden of Eden to Adam, he has entrusted his earth to mankind. We will be held accountable for how we manage God’s blessings, and there are rewards for those who wisely steward God’s gifts.
- The Christian Farmer’s Role in the Redemption of the Earth: When man sinned, his relationship with the Father was broken, as were his relationships with woman and the environment. Christ came to repair all of these broken relationships. All of creation waits for the redemption which Christ brings and for the children of God to be revealed. The Christian farmer is a minister of this reconciliation between man and his environment — namely, his soil.
Now is when I ask you guys to participate with me in my work: Tomorrow* (Wednesday) I’ll be doing a prayer drive in lesser-reached areas. I’ll be driving west towards the Biharamulo and Chato areas, praying as I go that God will show me areas where the knowledge of his glory has not yet been made known. I plan to stop and meet people along the way, praying God will introduce me to “people of peace” who are being drawn to him by his Spirit. I hope to form relationships in areas which will allow me to introduce Christ through the TA curriculum.
Please join me in praying that God will show me people he desires me to meet, and that he will bless our conversations as I declare and demonstrate the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.
*If the rain that started yesterday morning ever stops (3 in yesterday and still raining). While you’re praying, in fact, I have a rather unusual request for Tanzania and the farmers with whom I work: We need less rain.
It’s been forecast this will be / is an El Nino year which means incredibly heavy rains. Forecasts have been accurate so far, and many farmers in low-lying areas have already lost their first season’s crops. We’re receiving more rain than many soils here can handle, and most smallholder farmers have very few buffers against hunger in a bad farming season. Pray we will receive rain in manageable amounts, and that food will be enough.
Here are some photos of a recent drive I made on one of our better dirt roads; you can see the damage to nearby fields.