Here at Plant With Purpose, our vision is to create lasting, holistic transformation in rural communities experiencing poverty and environmental degradation... and we believe that spiritual renewal plays a big part in this. As an environmental organization working through the lens of Christian faith, we believe that our efforts against poverty, climate change, and deforestation aren’t just about solving problems. They’re about restoring relationships. All these issues reflect fractures in the relationships all of creation was meant for: relationships between people and God, people and creation, and people with each other.
This is why our vision of transformed communities includes spiritual renewal, serving one’s neighbors, and a stronger sense of purpose, alongside more traditional targets like planting millions of trees or substantially reducing the portion of people living in poverty. While spiritual renewal may be more difficult to quantify than the number of trees planted, it is no less important. And it can still be observed!
One of the greatest examples we see of spiritual renewal taking root in our partnering communities is when we hear stories of relationships between different community members and family members being restored. In many of the places we work, reconciliation in interpersonal relationships can be an ambitious goal. Many of the extreme stresses and uncertainties that are common in places experiencing high levels of poverty and degradation take a heavy toll on relationships between relatives and neighbors.
Plant With Purpose’s program model invites community members into Purpose Groups, where they receive opportunities to work together toward restoring the environment, saving money and exchanging loans, as well as gaining a deeper understanding of how these actions are integrated into their spiritual lives. It is frequently through these groups that we see a strong sense of unity and solidarity emerge. As groups pursue restoration of their communities, members develop a stronger sense of belonging to one another.
Often, this transformation develops over time.
In Burundi, life is often difficult. Frequent food shortages and extreme uncertainty affect most families in rural areas. This creates circumstances where disputes between neighbors and family members often flare up.
Many members of Purpose Groups enter the program after reaching a stark level of despair. One group member, Alfred, tells us that, “our farm was so mediocre. We practiced poor agricultural techniques on infertile soil. The kinds of seeds we were using weren’t right for the climate. I would burn down an entire hillside without even thinking about it just so my cows would have somewhere to graze. I didn’t think about how bad the consequences of these actions would be for our environment.”
As climate change demands that many people in Burundi work harder and harder, and occasionally resort to actions that do further long-term damage to the environment, it can be very easy to develop a sense of despair. There is often no sign of how things can become better, and it is very easy to believe that the patterns of worsening conditions will only continue to further deteriorate.
This sense of despair can wreak havoc on a person’s relationships, including their relationships with God, with themselves, or with their family.
“I felt so hopeless. I couldn’t even afford to pay for my family’s health care costs,” recalls Alfred. This drove him toward heavy drinking, which further worsened the problem. “I used to work as a day laborer so I could feed my children. I have four of them. Unfortunately, there were several times where I came back home empty handed because of the alcohol.”
It was at this low point when Alfred found his way to a Plant With Purpose group. “After joining Plant With Purpose I came to the realization that I could be doing much better,” he recalls.
Olivier, another group member, shared a similar experience.
“I knew my life was unhappy,” he recalls. “I had no reliable source of income, and I was hopeless that I could find a meaningful thing to do with my life. After I joined my group, I became a different person, and everything changed.”
Change is a process. It often starts small, in one single area of a person’s life. As they develop new habits, new desires, and new goals, this change can then spread into different areas of their lives. For Olivier and Alfred, change began through their relationship with the land.
Both men were introduced to the Seeds of Change curriculum, a training for regenerative agriculture used in Plant With Purpose’s program and taught in Purpose Groups. This curriculum aims to help rural farmers solve some of their most pressing problems by learning new skills that can immediately enhance crop production while also reducing soil erosion.
“I started applying the regenerative farming techniques I learned from the Seeds of Change lessons. I learned how to compost in pits, how to mulch, and how to grow healthy fruit and vegetable gardens,” Alfred recounts from when he first joined the program. “I learned that I could use grass to fix my contour lines and to plant trees and shrubs to repair the hillside.”
Olivier discovered that his favorite activities revolved around tree planting. “I’ve planted trees on my property. I practice reforestation and agroforestry. I’ve noticed that I didn’t just want to plant the tree starters given to me by Plant With Purpose, but I had ambitions to plant even more. So with their support, I started my own individual tree nursery.”
As the land and ecosystem where they lived and worked began to improve, so did their lives. They were able to grow more food, without having to labor as exhaustively. The increased production also helped them generate more income, which eased their lives.
Changes like these unleash a strong sense of empowerment. After being able to see one area of their lives and communities transform, members like Alfred and Olivier are inspired to dream of what else could be transformed.
For Alfred, this discovery was a breakthrough. He tells us, “I feel a sense of purpose when I read scripture and lead prayers at our group meetings. I can testify that my life has been transformed through spiritual renewal. I have more social solidarity with my neighbors and respect for the environment.”
At the same time, these changes also challenged him to reconsider some of his old habits and past actions.
“I used to be unsociable. I was a bitter man,” he admits. “I would bully my older brother’s widow who I shared some inherited land with. I would try to cheat her out of space by going over the boundaries of my parcel. After accepting Jesus Christ, my life has been transformed.”
Alfred realized he needed to make amends with his sister-in-law. Not only was his burgeoning faith stirring up a strong sense of conviction within him that this was a necessary thing to do, but she was also a member of his same Purpose Group.
“At first, she didn’t feel comfortable sitting next to me in meetings because we were in conflict,” he acknowledged.
Workshops in Purpose Groups, however, encourage group members to work together to reimagine the spiritual significance of things like creation, community, and identity.
“Thanks to the dialogue and discussions we’ve shared, I am reconciled with her,” Alfred updates us. “She is in joy and at peace, and I am rejoicing as a community peacemaker. I help other group members resolve their conflicts through my role as a village facilitator.”
Olivier’s experience in his group results in a similar story.
“As I’ve grown spiritually, I’ve started to think more about a land dispute I’ve had with a family member of mine named Sylvestre. After attending a Theology of Work discussion and learning even more from Plant With Purpose, I decided to reconcile with Sylvestre. Not long afterwards, his house caught fire. I decided to take a risk in order to stop the fire, and I wound up saving his house.”
These stories are not isolated incidents, but representative examples of the spiritual transformation taking place in Plant With Purpose groups all across the globe. Healed relationships are a vital and valuable outcome of our mission, and as members like Olivier and Alfred find peace with their neighbors.
Community members also work together to help each other solve problems. Many group members contribute to shared social funds that can be used if a group member or neighbor in the community experiences a crisis or a moment of extreme hardship. We have seen groups use these funds to help members access transport to medical care, to rebuild homes after being hit by a natural disaster, or to cover funeral expenses after the loss of a loved one.
All this helps participants become more aware of both their own value, and the value of their relationships with their neighbors.
“I am no longer the same person that I was before. After experiencing spiritual renewal, I learned how to be a man of value in my community,” reflects Alfred. “I no longer get drunk; I live peacefully and harmoniously with God, with other people, and with creation.
“I am so delighted that now I get to be a good father. I just sent one of my children to study at a private university and I was able to pay all of the fees in order for him to attend.”
“The things I’ve learned from Plant With Purpose have helped me understand mutual love and forgiveness much better,” shares Olivier. “Now we are living in harmony.”
Your support is transforming lives both inside and out. To make a donation so that more families can participate in Plant With Purpose’s Purpose Groups, just follow this link.