Gardens are usually a plot of ground where flowers or ornamental shrubs grow, or maybe we use the term to describe a meaningful patch of vegetables. The urban 'gardener' in high rises may grow enough in his kitchen garden to season the home cooking, but some gardeners are more ambitious, and can feed a community through the local farmers’ markets or grow enough flowers to sell them in bouquets. Open spaces with garden plots were the selling points that created the suburbs. Picturesque farms with gardens were always the focal points when John and I would drive through scenic Wisconsin in the late summers, where we found clever gardens that expressed the creativity of the family and showed off the fertility of the soil. From Amish to artisan spreads, the farms, countryside, and quaint towns were bursting with color during months that the Arkansas heat had withered everything.
Biblical kings established gardens that were more like royal parks, sanctuaries within the kingdom, and large enough to host huge weddings and feasts, and also served as burial grounds. Such a place is mentioned in the Book of Esther, so these regal gardens were common throughout Mesopotamia. The author of Ecclesiastes sounds like these vineyards, orchards, and gardens were kings’ tasks, and if that’s the case, then the King of the Universe was first to express His prosperous reign by creating the perfect environment for His man. His fashioning of trees for shade and for fruit, with leaves for healing, showed His own affinity for gardens. Messianic believers have the accounts of Yeshua praying earnestly in a garden, handling what the first adam missed, in a place He resorted to often. He was laid to rest near there in a garden tomb, and in the dawn of First Fruits, was mistaken as the gardener! The humor of that is not lost on me.
Maybe that’s why we do what we do, whether farming, gardening, or yes even in Commission Fields – among other things, we plant and build gardens.
“Then the Lord took the man and put him in the garden to tend and keep it.”
– Genesis 2:15.
Sadly, I’ve heard preached from this verse that man was a glorified gardener, but a look at the actual Hebrew yields more. To “tend and keep” is expressed in the words l’avdah ve l’shamrah, to serve and to guard (avodah is a word encompassing work, worship, and service, whether to God or idols; shamar is the verb to guard and protect). To work, serve another, and worship is all embodied in the concept of eved or avodah. It’s the same expression used in regards to the ministers of a king. We call royal or presidential department heads the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Education, etc., and the Apostle Paul calls us the ministers of reconciliation. Ministers serve. It's their work. Clearly, man’s role in the world was in service to the King, a job description none of us should mind since He creates the best culture and atmosphere possible, with a benefits package out of this world! How different would the story have gone had that first man guarded and served in his worship with a little more heartfelt tenacity.
Our collaborations in Israel have helped cultivate amazing connections between the land, agriculture, and education. Israel’s commitment to all of these means she readily shares knowledge to reproduce similar results in other places, and we’ve seen first hand the benefits. Our India brethren gleaned much from their time in the Arava, and took that spirit back home to their own South and have been developing their agri-corner of the world ever since. While connecting these dots, we engaged with the community of Nofei Prat outside Jerusalem and helped establish a garden there, Gan Beshalom, joint venture of our two families and communities in one shared vision. This beautiful garden and tree farm in the Judean hills isn’t far from Jeremiah’s neighborhood, and has hosted Bat- and Bar Mitzvah celebrations and more from its scenic heights. They have employed the same techniques as in the Arava, where only small rations of water in the most arid of places produces bountiful farms with incredibly delicious dates, fruits, and the best vegetables I’ve ever put in my mouth. I tried to bring home a case of the Arava dates once – but ate the entire thing before flying home. The Arava dates are like their own food group, but I could say that about the strawberries and sweet peppers, too!
Now it’s time to build again, another garden, this one as a blend of structure, shade, and of family togetherness. In 2022, we completed the fortified classroom aka bomb shelter at Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center in Grofit, Southern Israel, a joint task with Jewish Federation of Arkansas, Jewish National Fund, and our CF partners. It was a task, no, a responsibility we accepted charge of for this place serving 200 families a week in therapies. But all the construction pictures clearly showed it was a building stuck in the desert. Though a life-saving multi-purpose classroom that doubles as a required bomb shelter, the classroom/building lacked beauty, landscaping, connection to the other buildings. There was no shade around it, nothing of appeal especially to children, no patio or porch for the parents to read or wait for their children. No place for siblings to play while their other family member is treated for stress or learning disorders. No place for moms while their injured IDF soldier-sons and daughters get treatment and recovery therapy…no place of mental rest and respite in this desolate region for the many Ukrainian refugee families that have been sent here to live for the next three or more years. Yes – all of the above are the real-life day-to-day missions of miracles and services rendered to Israelis & Ukrainian families at Red Mountain. We’ve had a ring-side seat to see children learning to speak or walk, kids learning to productively participate in family life for the first time, the traumatized recover from war-related anger issues, all cooperating in the desert on the backs of gentle horses with therapists they connect with.
The quiet desert, the trained therapists, and the horses are partners with kids like Ido.
So when JNF, Jewish National Fund, and RMTRC, our friends at Red Mountain, approached us about the $100,000 construction needs around the classroom, it more than seemed like the right thing to do. It was an apparent next-step for what has begun in broadening life in the Negev and Arava for Israel’s population that must move southward. But of course it made me sweat and lose some sleep, to think of this boutique agency expanding in this way, until I remembered, Oh yeah, Hashem planted the first garden so odds are He’ll help with this one. I couldn't help call to mind JNF's CEO Russell Robinson and so many of their leaders reciting their motivational slogan, "We don't do the easy ones!" We took the step, signed the agreement to complete this mission in a three-year timeline as our Arevut in the Arava – our mutual responsibility, a Jewish ethic that we express community responsibility in deeds. This is a true expression of faith, as it is said, "Faith without works is dead." (see James 2...faith and blisters can go hand in hand as fittingly as work, worship, and service). To Heaven’s Glory we have received a matching grant and contributions in the Christian and Jewish communities to launch the project!
A garden is where one can come to rest, to breathe, to dream, to pray or play…to hear the sweetness of music or the sounds of nature…and experience for a few moments what has been in each of us from the beginning. To build it, we as believers are collaborating in the divine, as expressed by the rancher/prophet Amos and others…
“I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them, says the Lord your God.” – Amos 9:14-15
“For the Lord will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in it, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.” – Isaiah 51:3
“So they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’” – Ezekiel 36:35
Will you share this ministry of agriculture merged with education, for the benefit of children, families, and soldiers in our extended family, our brethren in the desert? Look over the plans and photos that show the steel pergola connecting the fortified classroom to the nearby building. You can see from aerial pictures how much desert surrounds a little bit of green... Besides finishing the important classroom, we are putting in the garden, with ornamental stones, decorative shade sails, fruit, palm, and shade trees, landscaping, a life-size chessboard and other play-area amenities, a lighted path, outdoor lighting and seating... a true "park." It feels like a mini version of Garvin Gardens, a place outside Hot Springs, Arkansas, provided by the benevolence of a family that believed in the future, in agriculture, in education, and in the serenity of a garden. Let's build and guard our tangible and inner gardens as we reach to fulfil the eternal, an Edenic era in the world to come and for a future good here as well.
Photo credits: Thank you, Eva Lange, Development Director at Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center, Grofit, Israel for always sending such great pictures of the fortified classroom progress and the stones to build on. RMTRC and Jewish National Fund generated the Garden Plans. Thank you Pastor Jeff Schroeder for Daniel Jacob's Gan Yaraq breakfast photo! Such a feast, and not far from Idan. I am pictured with Russell Robinson, CEO of JNF @JNFNC22. The floral shots are mine from Green Lake, Wisconsin.