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This week I am celebrating 16 years of building strong children at the FFHM Home For Needy Children in Oaxaca, Mexico.

I am the gardener at a home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico. I am just one cog in the engine that makes this place function. There are also house parents, cooks, maintenance people, a mechanic, an accountant, school teachers and administrators. We all work together to give the needy children who come here a life that they could not have otherwise imagined. A life where their physical, emotional, educational and spiritual needs are met.

All of the staff members are dedicated Christians, both Mexicans and Americans. We all have our regular jobs at the mission. On top of those jobs, many of us serve God, or cooperate with God in building up the Kingdom, using our gifts to help people glorify God and enjoy him, outside of our children’s home job description. The maintenance guy and his wife, one of the cooks, minister weekly at a church they started a couple years ago. The kitchen supervisor, a couple of house parents, a school teacher and the administrator, make up the church band. Others teach Sunday School.

And then there is Pablo. He works in maintenance and helps me with the gardening. He also preaches and teaches during the week at five drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers throughout the Oaxaca Valley. He has a passion to help people struggling with addictions, because he, himself, overcame drug and alcohol addictions and found Christ in the process. After completing a rehabilitation program, he went on to graduate from a Bible institute operated by Foundation For His Ministry. The Bible Institute is free, but one requirement is that upon graduation, students volunteer to help at one of the ministries operated by FFHM, for a year, which is what brought Pablo to the Oaxaca home for needy children. After his one year of volunteering, he came on staff and has helped care for the children in many ways. He married another staff member four years ago, and they recently adopted three of the children from the mission.

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Pablo, his wife and recently adopted son

Pablo has invited me to go to one or more of the rehabilitation centers and share the gospel a few times over the last few years. I always kinda wanted to go with him, but my Spanish is still a bit iffy, and I was busy with my own on-the-side ministry of teaching English at a prison across the highway from the children’s home. Covid shut down that teaching opportunity, so in January I took Pablo up on his offer to go and share the Word of God at a rehab center. I went with him to “Nueva Criatura” or New Creature, in the nearby town of Tlacolula and met a bunch of men of all ages and walks of life who live at the rehab center and have at least one thing in common – they need help to break free of their addictions.

I asked myself, and God, What could I possibly say to those men that could help them? Being a gardener, I thought of all the areas at the mission that were at one time just a wasteland filled with thorn bushes and thistles, and are now beautiful gardens. I heard one time that no one enters a rehab center unless they have hit rock bottom. One day they look at their lives honestly and simply see a wasted life filled with trash and rubble, weeds and stubble, pain and broken relationships. They desire a better life and they finally seek help.

My hope was (and is) to be an encouraging light in a hopeless darkness, one showing them how to turn their personal wasteland into a beautiful garden. I took a few basic garden principles, found spiritual parallels in the Bible, and encouraged the men to apply these principles to their lives. I talked about the first garden, the Garden of Eden, and how it was beautiful, abundant and ordered, and how God could take the disorder, chaos and ugliness of their lives and change it into a wonderful garden that would not only fill them with peace and joy, but also those around them, if they trust God, the Master Gardner, with their lives.

This is not a new message for them. The rehab center is run by Christians who give the men a healthy dose of the Gospel many times a day in many different ways. My voice is just one of many who hope and pray, preach and teach, at the center. Perhaps the fact that I come from a different country, background and culture gives them a different perspective and they see that the Good News about Jesus and his love is not only for the down and outers suffering from addiction withdrawal, but for all types of people from all over the world. Or perhaps they just see a gringo loco. Probably a little bit of both.

Encouraging the men at the rehab center.

I don’t know how successful I have been communicating with them, especially with my less than perfect Spanish. Some of the guys speak English and help me out when I stumble, and when I am finished talking, Pablo comes to the rescue and drives home whatever point I was trying to make.

Ever since that second week in January, I have continued to accompany Pablo to Nuevo Criatura, to share from my heart truths from God’s Word that have changed my life, and hopefully will make a difference in their lives. I pray that they not only become free of addictions, but come to believe and see that God loves them and wants them to be happy and follow him forever and ever, amen.

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I am the gardener at a home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico. I have been a gardener most of my life. It started when I was five years old and my kindergarten teacher gave me and my classmates a Styrofoam cup with dirt in it. Then she gave us each a pumpkin seed which we planted in the dirt. Five months later I had four large pumpkins growing in the front yard of our little house in Denver and ever since then I have been a garden lover.

The Bible talks a lot about gardens and plants, from the first couple of chapters of the Bible to the last couple of chapters of the Bible. I especially like the first garden story found in the Bible in Genesis 2:8,9 –

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden, and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

I read an article in the magazine Christianity Today a few years ago that has always stuck with me. The article was about making gardens in prison. It was also about Nelson Mandela. Most people know that he led protests denouncing the abuses of white power against the oppressed black people of South Africa, and because of that he was put in prison for 27 years. He was finally let out of prison and a few years later became the president of South Africa. What a lot of people don’t know is that while he was in prison he planted a garden. It brought him some measure of hope and peace and what he felt like was a little bit of freedom and strength. The article is about both about Mandela and about the verses above:

Early rabbinical scholars saw in these verses everything that is necessary for shalom or what some people call comprehensive flourishing. First, they saw order. The garden was not random or accidental; God planted it. It had purpose and intent. This is what differentiates a garden from an verdant jungle–there is a gardener orchestrating it. Second, they noted that the beauty of the trees is listed in the verse ahead of their usefulness. Beauty is necessary for human flourishing. We crave it in our spirits as it draws us toward the beauty of God. Finally, the garden contained every tree that was good for food. There was an abundance of resources to meet every physical need.

Order, beauty, and abundance—these are what we need to flourish. And yet these are not the qualities we often experience in our fallen world. Instead we face an uncrossable sea between the world we desire and the one we occupy. We can see in our imaginations the world as it should be—the future New Jerusalem, the garden city of God—but it does not match the barren wilderness we experience in the present. Between today and tomorrow lie the cold waters of reality.

How do we cross the gap between our vision and our reality? We plant gardens. We work to cultivate a small piece of the wilderness of this world so that it reflects what we know the world ought to be. When we do this successfully, it brings hope—a small taste of freedom, as Mandela discovered.

I think one reason God made the Garden Of Eden was to be an example to us of what he wants our lives and our world to be like. I think he wants each of our lives to be little gardens of Eden, full of order, beauty and abundance that will impact our dark, broken world. Our lives can be changed from chaos, ugliness and lack, to order, beauty and abundance if we choose to follow him, cooperate with him, love and trust him. It takes time, patience and endurance, but it can happen by the grace of God. And the world can be a happier place.

This was the first sunset of the year viewed from Union Zapata, Oaxaca, Mexico.

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