On Saturday, we planted trees.
We met at the Institute for Intercultural Study and Research (INESIN), one of Global Ministries’ partners here in San Cristobal, at 7:30 a.m. We loaded around 200 trees into the back of a pickup truck, loaded ourselves into the back of the pickup truck, and drove 30 minutes on a highway and 30 minutes more on patchy dirt and gravel roads to arrive at the stunning farm of a local pastor. Perched on the side of a mountain, we looked out over the plains to another mountain range as it was just starting to be covered by the ever-present day-time clouds.
Despite the desire to stand and gawk at the spectacular view, we got to work. We split our group into two—half digging holes and half removing seedlings and their young roots from their bags and planting them in the holes. We learned the proper technique (15 cm deep hole, darker dirt to pack-in the young roots, dirt covering the tree at a lower point than the surrounding earth so water will pool, naming each tree and willing it to grow, etc.) to give each seedling the best possibility to grow into a strong, mature tree. Around mid-morning we stopped for breakfast. We stretched our legs, washed our hands, and trekked up the hill to eat a delicious breakfast prepared almost entirely from food grown on the land around us—the original farm-to-table meal.
The pastor we worked with bought his land 5 years ago. Today, he has many acres of organic crops growing—corn, avocado trees, apple trees, pumpkins, beans, tomatoes, lettuce, even honey bees; you name it and he’s growing it. When asked about how he learned to grow, he replied “as I went.” Five years ago, he had the foresight to buy his land and start growing crops to sustain his family; now, he looks to the futures of his children and his grandchildren, to the life of a local farmer 100 years from now, a time he will never see, and plants trees.
To take something you cannot see and put your hope in it, to will it to grow so that it sustains future generations takes heart. It takes patience, foresight, hope, and most importantly, faith. It takes belief in something you cannot see. This pastor put his faith in us—a group of three women and three men—to help sustain his family and his country years into the future, into a time none of us will see. He believed that we would plant his trees well, that we would help them find the space to grow; and he put his faith in himself and his family, that his children would continue to nurture these tiny little seedlings long after he no longer could.
To plant trees is to connect with our roots and bring new life into the earth. To pack-in and kneed the earth around the seedling is to massage our souls. To believe in the growth of a tree is to put faith in the patience of generations to come.
So, on Saturday, we put our faith entirely in something we could not see and planted trees.
Cara McKinney serves as a Global Mission Intern with Melel Xojobal, in Chiapas, Mexico. Her appointment is supported by Week of Compassion.