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Bearing Witness to New Life

Seeds bring hope and sustenance

By Amy Gopp
This article originally appeared in the February - March 2010 Newsletter.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

—Isaiah 11:1-2

I vividly recall the first time I saw a banana tree weaving through the maze of lush trees and green leaves. My colleague Annah had invited me to her Kenyan village, and she could not believe I had never seen a banana tree. I explained that this down-home girl from Ohio had never had the opportunity until she set foot on African soil.

There I was surrounded by bananas and other exotic delights, such as papayas, avocados, and sugar cane. To reach up and pick an avocado right off the tree—what a dream come true! Kenya turned out to be a place of plenty living in tension with the poverty I had expected. How perplexing and profound to be in such a rich yet poor place. This is the paradox that is Africa.

As Annah and I continued our walk, she told me stories of drought. In the 1980s and at various times since, the region suffered severe drought and then famine. No bananas, no corn, no crops of any kind. Cows and goats died. Eventually people lost their lives, unable to sustain themselves without water or food.

Annah’s brother Alex shared more of the story. He told how marvelous it was, after surviving the drought, to walk through the place where his banana trees once stood and find remnants of a few stalks still standing. He could barely contain himself as he described the tenacity of these tiny tree trunks. Neither Alex nor Annah had expected to eat their own bananas again. In Africa, it is a surprise to survive.

I have joined the Africans’ struggle to survive. And, like Isaiah, I often ask, how long will the suffering last? How long will those living in the midst of plenty continue not to have enough? We now know the horrible effects of climate change on our world’s food and water supply, effects that hurt those who are already vulnerable—in places like Africa. Drought and hunger are no longer the exception but the norm. The tropical paradise I first walked through 10 years ago is at tremendous risk.

How long, O Lord? How long will more than 1 billion people go hungry?

But even as I, with Isaiah, ask how long, the Lord already provides an answer. Just as those parched banana trees endured to bear fruit again, even in the smallest stump, there lies a seed that will assure that life goes on, even in the midst of death. A holy seed that will assure that the love of God empowers even us stubborn, selfish stumps, for we are those sacred seeds that will bear witness to new life. We are those who must now reverse the effects of climate change and do our part to end hunger in the world.

Alex’s bananas would never have grown again had the rain not returned. The survivors of Judah could not have gone on to restore Israel but for the power and love of God. Out of the stump of Jesse a sacred shoot shall sprout. And that shoot shall provide hope and sustenance.

May we be the soil in which the shoots of justice take root as we prepare for the coming of the One who will, indeed, be Bread for the whole world.

Amy Gopp, an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, lives in Kent, OH.

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