Rural Faith: A Model for Practical Evangelism and Outreach in America’s Heartland

Sometimes I wonder what those standing around Joseph, giving his interpretation to Pharaoh, must have thought while he was revealing the meaning of the prophecy.  Was it something like, “This guy is so full of it!  Things are so good right now in Egypt.  Of course there can always be slim times, even Egyptians get a bad crop season every once in a while.”  Seven years is a long time to wait for the poop to hit the fan.  But what if times were already bad, like now?  What would Joseph tell Pharaoh?  Would Pharaoh truly see the need to prepare the country for a prolonged downturn?  Would he have listened?  What about you?  Would you listen?

Oh, if we only had seven years of abundance!  Wait!  We have!  We have had more than just seven years!  The United States has experienced abundance for a very long time.  Even during our more recent recessions and economic crashes, compared to most of the living world, we lived like kings…and we still do!  But what if we get to a time when the “lean” times are “very lean?”  I don’t mean lean compared to our standards, I mean lean compared to the world’s standards. Is it too hard to imagine that “very lean” times are on our doorstep?

The “Times” We Live In

We are living in curious times.  It is not very hard to make the mental jump that some event can wreck havoc on our economy, causing a domino effect that reaches all the way down to our food supply.  Can’t make the jump?  Let me help you.

Let’ say that war breaks out in the Middle East.  For example, the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia gets out of hand and fighting spills over the borders of Yemen.  Ships and exports from oil rich countries are not sailing as often and this causes oil to go through the roof.  Yes, the United States is producing a lot of oil now, but the price of oil is testy and the traders don’t have any problem hearing “war” and causing the prices of future barrels to cost more $$$.

As a result, the cost to move food to your local grocery store goes up too!  The cost of delivery is passed along to the consumer with higher food costs.  As food goes up, people realize that their money isn’t buying what it used to.  Suddenly, people are scraping by since food, gas and everything else is costing more.  How long will this go on before segments of society become unruly?  An unruly society brings with it a whole bunch of different problems as well.

Do you think this scenario is far-fetched?  Then you are not paying attention to the stressed out, dissatisfied population out there.  Just because riots and protests aren’t happening in your neck of the woods, doesn’t mean that it won’t affect your community or your church.  Don’t let the years of plenty cause you to neglect the possibility of lean or hard economic times.

A Current Evangelism/Outreach Model

When people are hurting or hungry or both, what do they want?  They definitely don’t want you to hand them The Four Spiritual Laws tract. Most churches understand this.  So, they have food pantries and assistance ministries that help meet the physical needs of believers before they attempt to meet their need.

But, food pantries are dependent on donations from individuals and companies that can provide much needed supplies.  However, in the scenario above, food pantries would run out of supplies pretty quickly.  And, if the cost of food sky rockets or supplies to grocery stores come more infrequently, food pantries might never be able to provide assistance again.  The church will lose its ability to meet the physical and thus, the spiritual needs of the poor and needy.

A Practical Evangelism/Outreach Model

You’ve heard the saying, “teach a man to fish…”  What if the church taught men and women how to raise fish and grow vegetables?  What if the church taught men and women how to raise rabbits and chickens and even goats?  What if the church was active in the community showing others how to live more self-reliant lives?  Is this too far a stretch as compared to just providing a food pantry or an assistance ministry?

Let’s say that a church becomes an expert in gardening and raising animals.   Many churches have property that has to be cut every week before the weekend service.  What if that grass or that land was turned into community gardens?  That’s not hard to do!

What if churches sponsored FREE classes on how to build soil fertility or How to save seeds for next year’s planting.  What if churches taught their congregations how to raise chickens for eggs and turn the manure into highly sought after compost?  What if a church taught self-sustainable skills to the community?  That community would be better prepared to face any economic downturn or other hardship.

What would it look like?

If a church transformed their lawn or grass into a community garden, those that volunteered to work the land would get a share of the vegetables that were grown.  The rest of the vegetables could be given out to the poor and needy.

If the church provided lessons and encouraged each member to start their own “Victory in Jesus” garden and raise their own animals, then the church would be healthier and better prepared for economic hardships.  One church member could share with the other.  Bartering vegetables, eggs or meat would be a way to help each other out.

During times of plenty, church members could take their “plenty” to food pantries around town or just give them away to neighbors or the needy.  The church could host Farmers Market’s on their parking lots.  Since gardening is a gateway to other self-reliant/sufficient skills, you would also find members selling/bartering handmade soap, homemade tools, blankets, jerky, canned goods, as well as fruit and vegetables.

Also, during times of plenty, the church could advertise and promote lessons on self-reliant skill acquisition like soap making, canning, sewing, working with wood, etc…  The possibilities are endless!

Of course, this idea works best in a rural setting.  Rural churches and congregations tend to have more land available and don’t have to deal with pesky HOA’s.  However, there are people who do this stuff in the city.   Groups like The Urban Farming Guys have transformed blocks of the inner city, Lykins Neighborhood, Kansas City.  They are growing food, working with aquaponics and teaching others how to do it too!  They are doing so much good and the testimonies of what they do abound!

What Will It Take?

Almost nothing!  There is a little investment in tools and supplies.  However, we are not talking about large scale operations here.  There are many, especially in rural settings, that already have the skills and supplies to do this.

What needs to happen is vision!  A church needs to have a vision for reaching their community by teaching self-reliant skills.  In doing that, everyone benefits by being better prepared, living healthier lives, getting close to their food and seeing the blessings of how God provides for His people.

What if your church could be the light that shines in a community when things go south?  What if the church could meet the poor, needy and frustrated with vegetables, meat, eggs, hope and most importantly, the Good News?  That’s a church that I would love to be a part of!  And, I know there are many who would love to be a part of that too!

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8 thoughts on “Rural Faith: A Model for Practical Evangelism and Outreach in America’s Heartland

  1. Dare Tuitt

    This is such a wonderful idea! Church community gardens are a great way to teach about the Christian life, as well. Sharing more than just the harvest, but those who know more passing on what they know to others, sowing what you reap, observing God’s natural law, the parables relating to sowing, the wheat and tares, etc. Even churches with no garden space can have the men build window boxes or raised beds to place around the building. Youth groups can sell seeds to raise money for planned events. So much can be done with this!

    1. Todd Sepulveda Post author

      Dare,

      There are so many spiritual principles that can be applied, it isn’t even funny! 😉

      Peace,
      Todd

  2. Cathy

    Hello, This what I’ve been teaching here for several years,but the churches have not stepped up to the call, Teaching others to fend for themselves and lost arts, like crocheting and knitting, putting in a garden and putting up food is what I do, but I’m only one person trying to help many. I managed a food pantry in a local town, that served 200 families a week, and there was even people turned away because of no food left,we gave out personal needs care items also, I left the pantry and am trying to visit and help others to get prepping, and that God does in deed love them and he will care for them but they need to help too. It falls on deaf ears, but I’ll keep trying. Will teach this year pressure canning, it’s safe way to can food. In Christ, Cathy

    1. Todd Sepulveda Post author

      Cathy,

      I appreciate your desire to teach others how to prepare, as well as share the Gospel with them. Have you shared this vision with your pastor? If they won’t get on board, will they allow you to hold meetings in the church?

      With your experience in organizing the food pantry, I’m sure you could organize Farmer Markets very easily. All it would take is to find local farmers who would want to sell their vegetables, etc… If your pastor sees the potential of what you’re doing, they might get on board!

      I hope that if I ever get out to a rural church, I have someone like you willing to teach skills to others. Keep up the good work and I’ll keep you in my prayers.

      Peace,
      Todd

  3. Sherry

    Great ideas for outreach, helping others “where the rubber meets the road,” and building community, all at the same time!

    As an aside, you can’t wreck havoc (you can’t wreck what’s already wrecked!). You wreak havoc (or, rather, let’s hope you don’t!).

  4. Steven

    A number of good points made in this article. I have a huge organic garden and every year my extra goes to others in need. Several members in my congregation do the same. In the past we have done canning classes and informal gardening and poultry lessons. A major problem is space (as you mentioned above). Some churches don’t own their own property and due to greedy developers trying to maximize profits, most houses are built practically on top of one another with little to no space to garden with. But even here, there are options for container gardening, edible landscaping, and vertical gardening.

    Although this is a good subject, it rarely gets off the ground unless we can effectively communicate to people the need for doing it. With today’s mentality of “I’ll just run down to the grocery store to get what I need”, it can be hard to develop interest in people.

    1. Todd Sepulveda Post author

      Steven,

      I agree that in suburbia and in cities that this would be a little harder to do, that’s why I think this would work best in a rural setting. However, you are right, container gardening would be helpful.

      I think that for this subject to get off the ground, it can’t just be a “small group” type thing. It would have to be a part of the vision of the church. When I think about this, I think about a whole church being prepared or getting prepared in some type of aspect.

      Peace,
      Todd

  5. Elaine

    I tried to get our congregation involved and everyone is so into the “I don’t need help” or “they can go to the food pantry” mentality that it hurts my heart. I have instead taken it on myself to try to teach what little I know, remind people that Noah was told to store food for his family and animals and Joseph was given insight as to the fat and thin cows. I have taught myself how to can food,and have a pretty good sized vegetable garden. Extras are given to needy families along with a booklet on food preservation.

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