God has called us to make a plan for the poor

Baba Marandure lives about 30km out of Masvingo and we were taken to his village by Pastor Joseph. On the way Pastor Joseph was telling us that when he met Marandure he was one of those extreme poverty cases that you simply do not know what to do with – his children we so malnourished their skins looked like elephant hide – so course and dry. Marandure used to work in other people’s fields so he could get a little bit for the kids.

Pastor Joseph taught Marandure the principles of Foundations for Farming. Being poor and with nothing to lose, that first season he was the only one digging the holes, looking for anthill soil (he couldn’t afford fertiliser), and the villagers were laughing at him. He persevered, and that year from less than one hectare he harvested 2 tonnes of maize (and everyone stopped laughing!). The rest of the village had a very poor season.

He kept one tonne for food, sold the other and bought a cow – so now his kids had food and milk. That was his first season, when we met him it’s his third and he now has 5 cows, goats, chickens, and plants maize, tomatoes, soya bean and groundnuts. He is a totally different man! All the neighbours who were laughing at him now come to him for training, (in fact one local young man he trained was showing us a well he is digging because last year he used the method to plant tomatoes and made $1,000 right there in the village – and now he is investing in reliable water so he can grow more!).

The important thing with this is not that the farmers learn how to farm; it’s that they experience a total change in mind-set once they understand who they are in Christ. All the best farmers in the villages we met are also the strongest Christians, sharing a message of a new life in Christ. There are a lot of NGOS where Marandure is and they offer free seed with the training (we don’t) – he was telling us that most of the villagers go and receive the free seed, and then they come to him for training! He speaks a message of life, not just farming and the people know the difference (though the allure of free seed and fertiliser is apparently very strong!).

this is good news to the poor

Most of us believe that God cares for the poor. What is not so clear is just how much God actually cares for the poor – listen to Ezekiel explain one of the reasons why God destroyed Sodom (Ezekiel 16:49) – ‘now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and the needy’. In fact this issue is so important that at the end when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats this is the basis on which he will do it – ‘then the King will say to those on his right; for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in (Matthew 25:33. The poor in our midst are God’s top priority, and the clearest sign of our Christian faith is what we do for the poor.

God builds people not things

We have heard that people are poor because they lack things. We do not agree – we believe people become poor when they lose their capacity to steward what resources and talents God has given them. The parable of the talents amply demonstrates this. People get out of poverty not by getting things, but by rebuilding their capacity. When people come to God, he restores them, then they rebuild their lives.
Isaiah 58:12 ‘when the poor hear the good news they become oaks of righteousness, they become rebuilders of places long devastated’.
This is one of the reasons that giving people things in the form of aid has resulted in the dependency syndrome that has had such a devastating effect in Africa. John D. Rockefeller put it this way – “Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it.” We must desist from taking God’s place in people’s lives and becoming their provider.

What then is the plan?

God calls us to be faithful with the first things he gives us, and the first thing he gives to a nation is the land. It is no coincidence that every nation that will develop will first have a green revolution. God adds to faithfulness – once there is sufficient production, secondary industries in manufacturing can develop, which in turn will lead to the development of national infrastructure, social services, and all aspects of the national economy. This is an inclusive, bottom up approach – not the much lauded trickle-down approach that has led to a widening of the poverty gap in many countries.

In Zimbabwe right now we are not being faithful with the first things – much of the land in the nation is underutilised, some is lying idle, unused, or grossly abused. For this reason, the rebuilding plan must be based on the faithful stewardship of this first resource. In addition, it cannot exclude the poor who are on the land; and this is why Foundations for Farming – a God-given tool for the stewarding of the land and increasing productivity – is so crucial to TMG. Over the next few weeks I will do a series on what Foundations for Farming is about.
However, TMG is not simply about increasing productivity – its aim is to bring about total flourishing through highly productive farmers, vibrant markets, processing and agribusiness. It is to see activity along the entire value chain of agricultural production, to truly make a plan for everyone to participate.

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