Residents and dignitaries gathered recently on a one-time rocky patch of weeds for an event to mark Reach Beyond’s newest endeavour—a greenhouse.
Using property adjacent to Reach Beyond’s former Hospital Vozandes-Shell, the team erected a 10,000-square-metre (2.5-acre) greenhouse earlier this year. It is now home to over 20,000 cacao plants along with 2,000 orange trees plus a variety of vegetables.
180 people came to the celebration on 8th September, listening to speeches, sampling roasted cacao (cocoa) beans and touring rows of small trees.
Addressing the crowd, Reach Beyond Community Development Director Wim de Groen did the unthinkable, holding up a potted cacao plant and then taking scissors and cutting its stem. To set the scene, he had described how the harvest from certain plants would be predictable—for example, avocados from an avocado tree and not from strawberry plants. Then with a snip of the scissors as people laughed nervously, Wim explained the science and beauty of grafting.
“I have to cut that and put a new plant onto it so that it can produce a different product,” Wim explained. “So too it is with our lives. By the fall we are born in sin, and our fruits are never perfect. Even though we try to produce good fruits, we have that evil inside of us. But we have hope because Christ died on the cross for our sins.”
Wim and Eric Fogg, director of clean water projects for the Latin America Region, view the greenhouse as a means of reaching people with the gospel. In the Amazon rainforest east of Shell, Reach Beyond has helped with clean water projects while opening evangelism opportunities.
The two men hope to see the mission’s conversation with these communities extended by introducing the greenhouse ministry. Eric commented “plants offer an amazing opportunity to link spiritual principles…The lessons in the Bible are very, very numerous.” Wim added, “Our desire is that we can see changes in people’s hearts—changes on the inside. Although we hope to help a number of communities with planting projects, we want to see the fruits of a change from within.”
Even with evangelism leading the project’s stated goals, other benefits are anticipated. Eric said “It’s going to take about two years for the long-term plants [cacao and orange plants] to produce fruit, but the short-term plants [potatoes and yucca] cycle every three or four months.” He foresees that jungle residents will enjoy a broader diet of foods, and in the long term participating communities will profit from more cash crops such as oranges and cacao. Additionally, it is hoped that current garden practices (slash-and-burn methods with little variance of crops) will be improved with better systems.
The new greenhouse outreach came in response to a failed agricultural programme by Ecuador’s government which flew in thousands of cacao trees to remote jungle villages to help boost people's incomes. Well-intentioned, the effort was not accompanied by training on keeping plants alive amid the region’s drenching rains.
“In our community development mind-set, we saw a niche that we could fill and do some training,” Wim said. “We can help the people learn how to take care of the plants, and we can help educate them on how to grow the plants better and faster.”
Staff members will provide weekly training to villagers on how to grow the trees. Distribution of the plants to remote areas is expected to begin in January. As the trees mature, they are better able to tolerate the torrential downpours in the rainforest.
“The government loves what we are doing,” Wim added. “We get government officials visiting our greenhouse to see how we do it. It’s a great opportunity to work with them.”
The West African nations of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Ghana produce almost half of the world’s cocoa. As demand for more flavourful cocoa has risen, however, Ecuador has emerged as the principal exporter of fine cocoa beans, according to the BBC.
Reach Beyond Latin America Region Director, Dan Shedd, said that the greenhouse would put into people’s hands a reminder that “we need to take care of what we sow in our lives” and that “God wants us to grow more and more into the image of Christ.”