Today we went around to meet Matthew Von Herulis, director of Sowers of Hope, and to hear about the agricultural ministry to reduce malnutrition and disease. The Agrifaith program is an educational/membership program that teaches farmers how to minister to the soul as one sent among farmers. Farmers receive 8 months of training through the church using Biblical principles. The graduates are commissioned and sent to train their local farmers in the practice, following the Biblically-based program. Sowers of Hope links farming and evangelism. The program includes access to information, materials, and opportunity. It has been received well by word of mouth and has been attracting attention in the community. The Fruits of the Spirit is one of the first parts of the curriculum, asking questions like “How do we farm differently because we have joy?” “How do we treat our animals?” “How do we interact with our neighbors?” The program is teaching people to carry their faith home, and that to be a Christian you live differently.
Conservation farming with no added chemicals is the basis of the practice: building soil and creating biomass for mulch. Help from the diocese comes through training and subsidies in natural compost, rather than direct financial assistance. Farmers are taught best practices using study plots to contrast and explore techniques. The principles are Excellence through experiment and innovation; Compassion through loving our neighbors and community, including sharing; and Humility.
Pigeon peas are a new experiment and are planted every third row. This crop is a short-lived tree, 3-5 years with an edible hard pea. One of the primary benefits is that it fixes nitrogen: accesses the nitrogen in the air and makes it available in the soil. The second benefit is partial shade, particularly at the beginning of the season. A third benefit is that it can be used as fodder for cows in the future. Farmers are taught to make their own compost and discuss pestilence prevention. Another tree that is quite promising is called moringa. This is said to be a miracle tree that is drought tolerant with incredible nutritive value. There is also a promising cosmetic use by pressing the seeds and selling the oil.
Fr. Alfred is the leader of a poor parish. They are farmers but they don’t have much land and are trying to farm but harvest nothing. He asked himself, “How am I going to serve this parish knowing the members are hungry?” We asked Fr. Alfred, “How did you have the foresight to trust Matthew’s program?” He replied, “We already realized the people were hungry. They were trying to farm and it was not working.” He replied that this was the answer to their prayers. He asked God for wisdom in maximizing their available land. He finds it so amazing that people are supporting this community without knowing them. He said, “This is a heart from God.”
Although 25 people started the program, only 12 finished it—like the 12 disciplines sent out to create more disciples. The program has attracted people who do not attend the local Anglican Church and some who do not attend church at all.
A coordinator for Sowers of Hope in the Gasura, Jean d’Baptiste, stated, “Sowers work hard in tears and sweat but have a hope of the harvest. We are finding out about God’s ministry, not just preaching, but what we do with our hands.”
We met a Sowers of Hope farmer named Ernestine and asked her what the program had done for her. She replied, “To farm with excellency, to farm well in a productive way. They taught me to farm well. They taught me to mulch, to plant in a line.” She was proud of her crops. She had a test plot and the differences in the soil were unmistakable. The typical Rwandan soil paled in comparison to the study plot that used the new techniques. The soil looked amazing and so did the food crop growing there. We learned that mulch is expensive but it is for the long term—for next season.
Sowers of Hope just sent out the 12 farmers. Pray for a plentiful harvest in hearts and in the field.