SOUTH SUDAN (BP) -- The light was soft as Monica* weeded her garden on a community farm in South Sudan. A picture from that day shows her sitting quietly among other garden plots, her legs folded demurely under her thin body. A long scarf is tied around her head for protection from the blazing African sun.
Susan Hatfield remembers the moment well. It was the day Monica learned that her nephew had been killed in a fight that took place while he had been watching over his family's cows.
[Monica] was crying and in shock after getting the news," Susan recounts as she talks via Skype. "The ladies [who were also in the field] were just surrounding her, and we prayed for her."
Sadly, life in Monica's part of the world is marked by violence and instability. And Susan hopes that good, strong crops can offer hope to families like hers.
Susan and her husband Mark work for Baptist Global Response as area directors for Sub-Saharan Africa. BGR is a Southern Baptist disaster relief and community development organization, and the Hatfields oversee humanitarian efforts scattered throughout the multi-nation region.
Susan was viewing BGR projects on the farm where Monica gardens when she learned about her nephew.
The agricultural projects that BGR supports aim to bring stability to areas like Monica's where food is scarce and poverty rampant. An organization that partners with BGR established and manages the farm to help the community with food security with an emphasis on feeding students at a local school. Village women are also encouraged to plant their own small gardens on its land. BGR outfitted the farm with oxen, chickens, buildings, fruit trees, fencing and drip irrigation. It also provided farming equipment, which Monica could use on her plot. She sowed melons and onions -- and that small amount of produce would help care for her family.
[Monica] didn't have a large plot of land to cultivate," Susan says. "But I was encouraged to know that the money she would receive from selling her onions would go a long way in paying her children's school fees as well as helping with food and other necessities."
The farm in South Sudan is just one example of more than 30 ongoing agriculture projects BGR funds worldwide. The organization works with partners on several continents to provide equipment, livestock, start-up seeds, agriculture training, irrigation systems, and more to individuals, farms and farming cooperatives. It helps widows grow vegetables and raise livestock to feed their families. It teaches farmers better ways to grow crops and helps refugees grow food in small spaces. And it helps communities revitalize their fields after disasters such as floods or drought.
BGR CEO Jeff Palmer says the organization's personnel and partners design each effort in cooperation with local communities. They take a people group's unique needs into account before starting a project.
"We have some great community development tools that help us go in and assess where people are and assess what their problems are based on their input and their needs," he says.
Palmer is no stranger to this kind of agricultural development. He holds a master's degree in agriculture from Murray State University in Kentucky, and he and his wife Regina spent more than 20 years in Southeast Asia serving as agricultural experts for the International Mission Board. All that experience taught him that farming projects not only can improve lives but also touch hearts.
"It's a great way to reach people in terms of just a practical level -- and a great way to show the love of Christ to people in need," Palmer says. "And when you're farming and working with people on the land, it just leads to great conversations about things on earth and things that are more eternal."
Palmer asks Southern Baptists to pray for BGR agriculture projects and for the people who benefit from them. Pray:
-- God will provide Southern Baptists with more ways to support and connect with agricultural efforts around the world.
-- More people with agricultural experience will volunteer their expertise to people in need.
-- Christians will feel compassion for struggling farmers and give to help them care for their families.
-- Impoverished farmers will experience God's love through BGR agriculture projects and recognize His kindness and compassion.
Those who want more information about BGR agriculture projects can visit www.gobgr.org. They also can get involved in BGR's current GoatFundMe campaign, which has challenged supporters to gift 1,000 goats to people in need. An individual goat costs $75 in the BGR Gift Catalog. Learn more at gobgr.org/goatfundme.
EDITOR'S NOTE: While BGR is not an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, it does promote and endorse the SBC's Cooperative Program. BGR's partnership with Southern Baptists in meeting global human needs is undergirded by those who give through their local churches to the Cooperative Program and to the Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief fund.