The Sower and the Seed

A Letter from Josh Heikkila, serving as Regional Liaison for West Africa, based in Ghana

December 2019

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In the parable of the sower and the seeds, in Matthew 13, Jesus tells us about the sower who goes out and scatters seeds in four different places: onto the path, where they are eaten by birds; into the rocks, where they are scorched by the sun; among the thorns, where they are choked while sprouting; and into good soil, where they grow and bear fruit.

When I ask people about their understanding of this parable, they seem to believe these seeds are sown in equal numbers: one-fourth get eaten, one-fourth are scorched, and one-fourth are choked, while only one-fourth take root and grow. But this interpretation makes me wonder, what kind of farmer would sow seeds in such a careless way, that three out of four seeds are lost? Not a very good farmer at all!

It leads me to wonder, then, what kind of farmer God is.

If the Holy Spirit touches four people with God’s word, will only one be impacted and transformed by it? Will the other three be lost? I guess it’s possible. But I have a feeling God’s abundance and generosity are much greater and more effective than we can ever imagine them to be.

I wish, instead, that Jesus had told the parable a bit differently. Yes, some of the seeds go astray, but the vast majority are planted in good soil and go on to bear fruit in one way or another, even if it’s in ways we didn’t quite expect. This telling would match more closely my own experience in life.

Although I’ve never done more than keep houseplants and grow vegetables in a backyard garden, farming has often been on my mind. When I was young, my maternal grandparents were farmers in north central Ohio. And now living here in West Africa, farmers are everywhere I look.

In this part of the world, farming is especially difficult work. Most fields are tended by simple tools still forged by hand. Due to the lack of irrigation, crops grow at the mercy of regular rainfall. It’s estimated that for 50% of the population of Ghana, agriculture is the main economic activity. In countries like Niger, it’s closer to 80%. Even in crowded West African cities like Accra, people keep goats and chickens in the yard (and sometimes even cows!). Roadsides and empty lots are frequently used as farms.

Seeing farmers tending their crops, helping them to grow in places where it doesn’t seem easy or likely, makes me appreciate the value of their hard work. It also helps me to realize that God helps make a way where there might not seem to be one at first.

More and more, when thinking about the metaphor of seeds and farming, I find myself drawn to the words of the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 55:11-12:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

God’s word does not return empty. It succeeds in doing what God has sent it out to do. I find these words incredibly hopeful, in a part of the world where the challenges are so great, it can sometimes be easy to lose hope.

All our partners in West Africa are concerned with holistic evangelism and development. They know that improving people’s lives means not only preaching the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them, but also looking out for their education, health, and well-being. To be relevant, our partners must meet people where they find themselves, day in and day out. And in West Africa, this means meeting them on the farm.

I’m excited, therefore, that Presbyterian Church (USA) World Mission will begin working together on some agricultural projects with our partners in the region.

The Presbyterian Hunger Program has begun supporting grain banks in Niger and will begin supporting an agroforestry project in northern Ghana, which will teach the interplanting of trees and crops, to improve soil quality, and therefore, crop yields. We are working on plans in Ghana to teach agricultural skills to women who have been accused of witchcraft, and who have had to flee their homes and farms. They often ending up in places where the soil is of very poor quality, and they struggle to eke out a living from the land.

In Niger, we are starting to build wells and establish nurseries to grow tree seedlings, which will then be used for a variety of purposes. In arid Niger, the planting of tree seedlings can help stop the spread of the desert, cut down on deforestation by providing firewood, and can be used as well for interplanting with crops. We will pioneer the same techniques in Ghana.

As with all the programs we undertake with our partners, these programs need to be well-planned and executed in order to be successful. While we try our best in both regards, there is always the possibility of failure. But even failure provides us with the opportunity to learn from mistakes and teaches us how to improve projects going forward.

In the months ahead, please keep our West African partners in your prayers as we begin working on these agricultural projects. I will keep you posted about them. Thank you, as well, for your financial support which makes all of this work possible. I wish you all the best this season of Advent and Christmas, and I pray the word of God also touches your lives, and that God accomplishes the purposes meant for you.

Josh

Please read this important message from Sara Lisherness, interim director of Presbyterian World Mission

Dear friend of Presbyterian Mission,

Greetings in Christ! As the interim director of Presbyterian World Mission, I am grateful to have the opportunity to thank you for your continued support of PC(USA) mission co-workers.

The enclosed newsletter bears witness to some of the many ways in which God is at work in the world through long-standing relationships between global partners and the PC(USA). These partnerships are nurtured and strengthened by the presence of mission co-workers in over 40 countries; you are an important part of this partnership too, as you learn about and share how our church is involved in global ministry; as you pray for our partners and mission co-workers; and as you take action to work with others for God’s justice, peace and healing.

I write to invite you to continue joining us in partnership in three ways. First, your prayers are always needed. Please pray that God will continue guiding the shared work of the PC(USA) and global partners as we engage together in service around the world. Pray, too, for mission co-workers, that they may feel encouraged in the work they are doing under the leadership of global partners.

Second, please consider making a year-end gift for the sending and support of at least one mission co-worker. There is a remittance form at the end of this letter and an enclosed envelope so that you can send in a special year-end gift.

Finally, I encourage you to ask your session to include one or more mission co-workers in your congregation’s mission budget for 2020 and beyond. PC(USA) mission co-workers’ sending and support costs are funded by the designated gifts of individuals and congregations like yours; your gifts allow Presbyterian World Mission to fulfill global partners’ requests for mission personnel.

Faithfully in Christ,

Sara Pottschmidt Lisherness
Director, Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry
Interim Director, Presbyterian World Mission


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