Monday, January 4, 2010

Slight Detour

In an attempt to organize my life, I've moved my blog so it fits with my current email address.

In other words, click this... New Blog Address.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Missionary Affluence and a Crucified King

One of the interns gave a seminar based upon Jonathan Bonk's book "Missions and Money," which addresses the issue of missionary affluence overseas. Bonk points out that most missionaries are believed to be making huge sacrifices by their peers from their home country. Missionaries give up much in terms of what "could have been" if they had stayed home. Most missionaries, however, still live in incredible affluence compared to the poor people they live among. Affluence doesn't have to look like TV's and vacations in Spain; in some contexts, affluence is a tin roof. Affluence is access to hospitalization, or the ability to leave the country if things get hot politically.

How exactly are we, as representatives of Christ, called to model him who "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor?" How do we witness to a Jesus who asks us to die with him that we may live, and commands us to give to all who ask of us, and yet still do so faithfully from within the walls of a missionary complex? How do we find the proper balance between living wisely and caring for our families, and yet still exemplifying the kind of self-denying life that Christ calls us to when we take up our crosses and follow him?

I don't have easy answers to these questions (perhaps because there are not easy answers to these questions). It is good to be challenged though, and to prayerfully reflect.

I'm beginning the process of seeking out next steps. I still have no idea where I'll go when I finish here at ECHO, but I am excited to find out. There are so many organization working overseas, and so many potential countries and programs, that it is very difficult to narrow down my options with any confidence. Things would be much easier if I was given a clear calling to a particular place, but until then I must learn to prayerfully discern his will in each decision, and trust that he will guide my steps at the proper times.

I'm going to Chattanooga next weekend for Heather's graduation, and I couldn't be more excited. I only wish I had longer. I'll be in Marietta next in early July, and I'm hoping to have an entire week to catch up with people who I won't have seen for several months.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What season is it again?

Time seems to be unusually short here at ECHO right now, which means that a lot has been happening. Here are some highlights...


In January we had a number of sub-freezing nights, which for our farm is pretty bad news. Here in North Fort Myers we are technically a sub-tropical environment, but many of our trees are native to very tropical areas. Our distance from the equator means that any temperature below about 30 degrees F is potentially devastating for many of our plants (mangoes, avocadoes, lychees, longans, etc.). Of course, the tomatoes don't care for freezing temperatures either (this is veggie season here, you recall).

Each night there was a freeze, interns stay up in shifts, monitoring thermometers around the campus. When temperatures plummet, we turn on overhead sprinklers and coat every plant in a thick layer of ice. For scientific reasons that completely evade me (even after explanation), constantly freezing a plant keeps the temperature constant, and so protects it from the sub-freezing air. A lot of things still died, but the farm looked pretty cool in the morning!

Farm Challenge

For one week earlier this month, all the interns participated in something called the "Farm Challenge," which means we were only allowed to eat food off of the farm (plus water, salt, and oil). Consequently, eating became a much more premeditated act. Veggies were harvested daily, corn was ground for cornmeal, and people got unusually creative with their recipes.

In the end, we all ate pretty well. Here's an example of some of our meals...

Goat meat, dry rubbed with citrus, fresh herbs, and olive oil. Goat and Rabbit sausage on a bed of cooked greens and onions. Rice with ginger stir-fried brocolli, sugar peas, green beans and carrots. Fried green tomatoes. Corn bread with farm honey, peanut butter or molasses. Fresh squeezed orange juice and lemonade. Ginger, lemon, and honey tea. Mmm.

Tech Request

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings this month I have been on Tech Request, which means I joined the team of staff responsible for answering technical questions sent to ECHO from missionaries and development workers in the field. In addition to being a good deal of fun, being on Tech Request was a great opportunity to become more involved with ECHO's international ministry. The questions are varied and often unusual. What are some potential forages for horses in Haiti? What is the best way to germinate Dragon Fruit seeds? Is it possible to feed rabbits (for meat) completely off of foraged greens? If I build a tree house in my Jackfruit tree, will the tree survive???

Being on Tech Request has helped to remind me of why I am here to begin with (and what ECHO exists for). I find it all too easy to become caught up in the busy schedule of plantings and trainings, and forget the overarching mission.

Pray that God would make me passionate about the things that He is passionate about, and that he would teach me to listen for his guidance over and above my own. I think I have a lot of weaknesses for his strength to be made perfect in.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New year, new lessons

And so ends a year of surprises. Certainly, I would never have guessed in January '08 that January '09 would find me working a farm, blanching broccoli and butchering chickens.

Here at ECHO, vegetable season is in full swing. While the rest of the nation shovels snow, we who straddle the border of temperate and tropic are harvesting bright red strawberries, filling buckets with sugar snap peas, and hand-pollinating pumpkins. I must confess that the tropical abnegation of seasons still strikes me as bizarre, but who can complain in the face of vine-ripe tomatoes? Though temperature highs never broached 60 on Thursday (the southwest Florida equivalent of a blizzard), most days hover around the upper 70's to lower 80's. Don't be jealous... I'll have to pay off my climatological debt when the summer hits!

What has happened since the last update (November!)...

- ECHO Agricultural Conference - Missionaries, development workers and nationals from developing countries converged on Fort Myers for a week long conference in December. Speakers discussed a number of issues: the global food crisis; underutilized food crops; cultural land tenure problems in Indonesia. Perhaps more importantly, opportunities were given for people to network together, sharing struggles and solutions they've faced while working overseas.

- Responsibility overload - As of December I completely took over stewardship of the Monsoon garden from Heidi, my predecessor. The agricultural complexity of managing crops, animals, and trees is still a little overwhelming for this city boy. When is the proper stage for harvesting broccoli? Who knew that Okra becomes unedible if not picked young (aka near-daily)? What is Jicama?

I think I'm coming to enjoy the labor of seed, transplant, cultivate, harvest, weed, weed, weed, weed, weed. The cultivation of food is a lifestyle that transforms daily patterns, as you slowly become tied to the land on which you live. Chickens need daily care, plants need water, crops must be harvested or else lost. It reminds me that every piece of food that passes my lips was once alive in one form or another, and that 99.9% of it was intentionally cultivated by someone, somewhere.

I inspect my thumb periodically for any green pigmentation. So far I haven't noticed any, but I take comfort in the surprising resilience of young plants, and the vigorous abundance of God's creation in general. Perhaps the green thumb will come one day.

- Christmas - The Christmas season was made brilliant by my family's week-long visit to the ECHO farm. It was strange not being in Atlanta; strange to not see friends; strange to miss the flickering candles at ECPC's Eve service; strange to step outside from Christmas dinner into 80 degree sun. But there was still family, food, and singing. And those alone are luxuries beyond belief. And we reflected on Glory, incarnated in weakness. On Love, submitting to persecution in order to redeem the persecutors.

With the rest of my time I've read a lot, and spent time with the community here on the farm. I've been thinking a lot about the future, wondering what God has planned. It would be nice to be given a glimpse of one's future, but He knows best.

I miss all of you from Marietta and Chattanooga. I'm a terrible distance communicator, but please feel free to call or email.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Life at ECHO continues this week much as it does every week: weeding, planting, harvesting; construction, seminars, and trainings. The weeks seem to fly by, but I feel as if I'm finding my place here.

We butchered some of our rabbits a couple of weeks ago, which was the first such experience for me. I had been anticipating/dreading the activity, but it was actually easier than I thought. And it's always good to know where your food comes from. We'll be butchering some of my and Heidi's chickens next week, and hopefully goats as well.

I am posting a few more pictures to the blog, and there are more new ones on the online album (the link is on the right).

This is a drip irrigation system, such as are used around the farm. The barrel is placed 1 meter above the ground, and a rubber hose is connected to the bottom and laid across the planting bed. Small holes are placed on the hose, and so the water drips out of the holes with no water pressure except that provided by gravity. I built this one last week for the rooftop, built primarily out of scrapwood found around the farm.

This is the Neem tree, native to India. It's not edible at all, but has a number of other uses. In India people will use the stems of leaves like a toothpick or as an alternative to brushing the teeth. The tree actually has antibiotic properties that make it very effective at cleaning bacteria. Oil from the tree can also be used as an insect repellent which is organic, does not harm the plants, and is relatively accessible to poor farmers. In the bookshop at ECHO we sell a number of Neem products, including a lotion. One of the interns has a mild eczema on his hands; the prescription he had didn't help, but the Neem lotion cleared it right up. Snowbirds, when heading north for the summer, often buy several tubes of our Neem toothpaste. Apparently some people swear by it. It's also a beautiful tree, and would be great for climbing in if I was allowed.

I've had a lot of opportunities to talk with other interns about development and the Kingdom, and between that and the great teaching at EPC, a church I've been attending, I really feel as if God is growing me in this season of my life. I've been thinking a lot about community, and the biblical injunction to hospitality. I don't necessarily think I'm a hospitable person naturally, but I hope to nurture that trait.

I hope y'all are doing well, I miss seeing everybody...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Of Plants and Poultry

I have now worked as an ECHO intern for a full week and change, and think I now have a better idea of what my life will look like for the next 55 weeks. I wanted to update y'all on a couple of things...

What does ECHO do?

ECHO does a lot of things, but perhaps the most important role we fill is one of networking. Missionaries and development workers in the field can become part of the ECHO network. Members of the network receive the periodic ECHO Development Notes which give practical advice on subsistence level farming techniques, and also have access to ECHO's tech request program. Basically, missionaries in the field send their questions and problems to ECHO staff/interns, who troubleshoot solutions. E.g. the corn crop is not producing, but there's no sign of obvious pests.

Interns and staff responding to tech requests have a number of resources at their disposal. In addition to the constant experimentation that happens on the ECHO farm, we have an extensive research library full of obscure and hard-to-find texts and files. After a few hours of dedicated research, a detailed response is sent to the missionary giving possible solutions to their problem.

In addition to providing information, ECHO also provides seeds to missionaries in the field in order to facilitate crop experimentation. Our seedbank is constantly being expanded, and is refreshed by the many varieties of edible crops grown on the farm.

ECHO does a lot more than this, but networking is a key part of their work.

What have I been doing?

This week I took over a couple of new responsibilities, in addition to continuing my orientation. Heidi (the intern whose Monsoon garden I will eventually take over) is on vacation for the week, so I am in charge of caring for the chickens and chicks in her absence. We are currently trying to wean them away from commercial feed and towards forage, which is a better option for poor farmers with limited funds. This means I cut branches from trees such as Moringa, Lucaena, and other nutrient-rich varieties and hang them in their pen. I also gather eggs, clean the coop, and all the other things you'd expect with chicken-care. I'm currently researching effective ways of upping their protein-intake, as they are not laying as much as they should.

I have also taken over the responsibility for watering one of the nursery areas, which has been a more challenging job. I am not yet an expert in judging which plants need water and how much (bamboo is thirsty, papaya doesn't like much water.). I'm hoping that repetition and practice will allow me to attune better to the needs of the individual species.

This post is getting long, so...

Plant Spotlight: Moringa

The Moringa tree is one of the plants that we highly promote here at ECHO. Moringa is an incredibly hardy tree (assuming you're in the tropics; it doesn't freeze well). It grows back from heavy pruning, and so can be maintained at head height, although it will grow into quite a large tree if left alone. It is perennial, drought resistant, and quite tasty with a slight horse-radishy flavor.

The primary value of Moringa is its nutrient content. Every part of the tree is edible, and the leaves are often dried and then grinded to a powder. One teaspoon of Moringa powder has more beta caroteen than a carrot, more protein than a glass of milk, and is also chock full of fiber and several important amino acids. Moringa powder added to a staple crop diet (e.g. yams) has been shown to significantly increase health indicators. It is often effective when given to infants in the breast feeding stage, as it can contibute necessary nutrients not provided by malnourished mothers. In combination with other nutrient-rich plants such as amaranth, Moringa has been shown effective in slowing the progress of AIDS - comparable to medication!

Moringa has numerous other uses too: it makes a great animal fodder. Moringa seeds, crushed, act as a water purifying agent when stirred in polluted water. The list could go on, but this post is too long already.

Final Thoughts

I will try to update more regularly with shorter posts. I will also continue to tell you more about important plants and crops, if you are interested.

Please feel free to post comments or email me with any questions you have; I love to talk about this stuff.


"A church full of life and love, working for the good of the community in which God has placed it, is the proper end of mission. Transformational development that does not work toward such an end is neither sustainable nor Christian"

-Bryant Myers, Walking with the Poor

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tomorrow is my first official day at ECHO! Here is an overview of what I'll be doing for the next several months...

During the month of October I will be primarily completing orientation tasks. In the mornings I'll alternate working with five of the six interns in their various garden plots: the Tropical Lowlands, the Rainforest, the Urban Rooftop, the Tropical Highlands, and the Semi-Arid garden. The only garden I will not work with is the Monsoon garden, which I will eventually inherit the maintenance of.

In November I begin shadowing Heidi, who is the current intern over the Monsoon garden. For the entire month I'll be learning the garden by working alongside Heidi, so that at the end of the month I can take over the maintenance and planning of the area. This also includes caring for the chickens and the Moringa trees.

From December on I will work a more constant schedule: work in the Monsoon garden and plant nursery, trainings and seminars on Mondays and Wednesdays respectively, large project farm work on Thursdays, and other tasks including leading tours of the farm and working in the bookshop. Next August I'll begin training my own replacement.

We work 6 days per work: 7:30 - 5:00 (although often later) on Monday through Friday, and then Saturday mornings. I recognize that it will be difficult work and long days, but right now I can't wait to start.

During these few days before the internship I have been hospitably welcomed by a lot of people. The Johns and Valkenburg families have both welcomed me into their homes and fed me, and their warmth has definitely eased the transition to life in Fort Myers. I have also enjoyed getting to know the rest of the staff here at ECHO. The girls living in the India house had the guys (Asia house) to dinner one night, which was incredible (even though they fed us caterpillers. No lie.).

Anyway, thanks for bearing with my long post. If you have any questions or just want to say hello, I'd love to get emails from some of y'all!