Since not much of note has transpired since the last newsletter, I figured this would be an opportunity to share more about the Natural Farm at YWAM’s University of the Nations campus in Kona, Hawaii. I hope this will help clarify what I am currently doing and what my day-to-day looks like.
The UofN’s Natural Farm is where I (Ben) have been working since we moved here to Kona. The farm is roughly divided into four sections: the permaculture food forest, the garden, aquaponics, and the appropriate technology/piggery area. The permaculture food forest is an area where we keep many perennial (long lived) species of food producing plants/trees in a sort of “natural” system—mimicking systems in nature by having many species in the same space unlike an orchard that usually only has highly managed trees of a particular species (i.e. an apple orchard). The garden has raised beds where we grow a variety of annuals from both the tropics and temperate regions of the world—some species that many of you have probably never heard of. The garden area also has egg-laying chickens, meat rabbits, and quail for demonstration. This area also has a large composting section where waste from grounds keeping on campus comes to be composted. The aquaponics area demonstrates a variety of systems and technologies relating to aquaponics (a system where fish water, cycles through plants: fertilizing the plants and filtering the water for the fish). We primarily recommend these systems for urban settings where soil is not available. The final area is the appropriate technology area and piggery. Currently there is a separate appropriate technology area on the campus, but they will be moving into this area over the next year. Currently there are only a number of systems for pigs (fed entirely by food waste from our cafeteria) and a single biogas system. Very soon we will have a metal shop/forge area, and a large number of appropriate technology demonstrations. We also have a shepherdess on staff, and sometimes sheep are kept on pastures around the farm. All of this is on roughly 3 acres)
The primary role of the farm is to provide a space for educating missionaries in small-scale sustainable agriculture. All of our teachings and demonstrations are geared towards household sized systems. As we are currently unable to run our normal schools due to COVID-19, we have no students at the moment: this means that those of us who are here are primarily involved in maintaining the farm and ensuring the day-to-day operation needs are met. When schools are running we have many students available to help us complete the tasks and maintain the farm and therefore we have time to teach as well, but at the moment it is up to four of us staff along with a handful of occasional volunteers. When schools are running we primarily have three kinds of people on the farm outside of staff: DTS track students, S&S students, and interns.
At YWAM Kona, there are a number of different DTS’s (Discipleship Training Schools) that are run (if you would like to know more feel free to visit the official site at https://ywamkona.org/uofn/), and some of those schools have tracks (or focuses). These tracks may be topics like media, dance, worship, sports, medicine, and community development/farming. The purpose of a track is for students to learn different means or methods of reaching people with the gospel. Students that choose our track will spend their afternoons at the farm as their “work-duty.” Alongside work-duty we do small teaching sessions covering very basic and foundational topics and prep the students for a project they will tackle on their outreach (i.e. building composting toilets, installing water filters, installing aquaponics systems, etc.)
The S&S (School of Stewardship and Sustainability) is a secondary school in the UofN. These are schools that you can do after you do a DTS (like the School of Business and Entrepreneurship I did last year). This particular school goes more in depth in agriculture and appropriate technology, and is one I will teach in when it runs. We were supposed to run one this fall, but we have postponed it until April of next year.
Interns are generally students who have done our schools and are interested in working with us on a project. Last fall we had a girl who was very interested in creating biogas systems (systems that use kitchen and animal waste to produce methane, a flammable gas that is useful in a number of ways). She interned at the farm and built a biogas system that runs off of kitchen waste and manure from our pigs.
Outside of education, our farm is also involved in research and innovation. Our leader is working on his doctorate and has been doing his thesis on aquaponics. We demonstrate and innovate various technologies in the aquaponics area as well. The garden utilizes techniques and products from Korean Natural Farming methods— methods that have a heavy focus on soil ecology (think probiotics like kombucha and yogurt for people, but equivalent products for plants and soil). We have a person on our staff that is helping out fishermen in Haiti: he is developing a simple wind-powered ice machine to preserve fish for market. Another staff member is writing an article for ECHO (an organization that publishes information for missionaries and development workers overseas) on a particular kind of water pump initially developed by a friend of the farm and trialed in many systems here. We would like to do more and more to partner with others—even non-Christian universities overseas (which we currently are working towards) with the hope of shining a light into those institutions.
I am involved in all of the things mentioned above in small and big ways, and I am considered one of the leaders over the Natural Farm area. It is likely I will take charge of the permaculture food forest as it has lacked a consistent staff member to manage that area, and I have a lot of past experience and knowledge managing fruit trees and other perennials in the tropics. As a team we also do short-term trips to various locations overseas in order to support/train local missionaries through seminars and teaching. We also use these trips to help install systems—to either support indigenous Christians who are struggling or to provide bridges into areas where the gospel has not yet been heard. The majority of the fruits and vegetables we produce are sent to the cafeteria, distributed to needy families in the greater Kona community, or sold to YWAM staff.
I have already given my story as to how we came to be here in Kona through newsletters I wrote last year; however, I feel it is important for me to explain further why we work in community development, how it helps to spread the gospel, and why we are in Hawaii. These are things I have touched on before, but I want write out clearly why we are doing what we are doing for those of you who may feel confused or need clarification.
First of all, above everything else, we want to emulate Jesus. As followers of Christ, we want to follow his example wherever we live. Heidi and I are called to be missionaries. I want to clarify what we mean by this. All of us are called to live missionally: sharing the gospel wherever we live. According to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) we are all commanded to make disciples of all nations. That means our nations, and the ones we do not belong to. I believe God calls the vast majority of us to make disciples in the nations we belong to (through our places of work, our ministries, our churches, our relationships, etc.). He also calls some to work cross- culturally to reach peoples of other nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ: this is a calling God has placed on our hearts as a family.
You might wonder: why Hawaii, isn’t that technically in your home nation? I know for many, Hawaii is seen as one massive American resort: a paradise destination for vacationers. We see it as a gateway to the Pacific Islands and Asia. Peoples representing both of these regions are strongly represented here in Hawaii, and here also happens to be where the largest YWAM campus exists. This campus, which is located in Kona, has relatively large schools. My DTS was made up of 15 students; schools here can have hundreds of students. Thousands of students move through this campus every year. There is so much opportunity to train and equip missionaries here who can have deep and lasting impacts in the countries they travel to. As people who teach and train those missionaries, we are an integral part of the global Missions movement. Every army needs training and directing to function with any level of success, and that can be held true in regards to God’s army (I know this imagery can have negative connotations for some, but for lack of a better illustration I will still use it). All this, and also we feel that God has
specifically asked us to move and work here in this season of our lives. Neither I nor Heidi has ever had an interest in moving to and living here, but we feel strongly that God led us here for many reasons—including using the experience and knowledge we gained by living and working in Indonesia to help prepare others to work long-term overseas.
You might wonder: how does teaching people about community development/agriculture further the gospel, or having anything to do with bringing people into the Kingdom of Christ? When I read the gospels, I often see Jesus doing two things together in His interactions: meeting people’s spiritual needs, and their physical needs. In Matthew 9:1-8, Christ first forgives the cripple of his sins, and then heals him from his ailment: he meets both his spiritual and physical needs. In Mark 6:30-44, Christ teaches the multitudes, then performs the miracle with the loaves and the fish in order to feed them: He was meeting their spiritual needs and their physical needs. The argument could be made that the miracles that “really mattered” where the spiritual ones, but I believe that Jesus did both because both are important. These are just a couple of examples that you will stumble on as you read through the gospels and even across the scriptures as a whole. Many modern ministries also seek to be “holistic” in the ways they minister: seeing these things (the spiritual and physical) as interconnected and not separate and making scriptural arguments in support of this. A non-Christian proverb that is found across many cultures—that I still feel contains some truth—goes something like this: “You cannot reason with a hungry belly: it has no ears.” It is generally interpreted to mean that people who are hungry have no interest in hearing what you have to say as they can only focus on meeting their basic needs. I think generally it is true that those who have been blessed by having their basic needs met (food, clean water, shelter, sanitation, etc.) are more willing to hear and receive the gospel. It is for these reasons that we focus on community development: because we feel that by meeting people’s basic needs we not only show them the love of Christ but also create a bridge for sharing the gospel with them. Ultimately, we do this because we love them and Christ loves them! And we teach others to do the same!
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
-Matthew 25:34-40 ESV
I could write a lot regarding this topic, but for now I felt moved to give this brief overview. If you have interest in discussing this topic or knowing more—feel free to write me an e-mail, give me a call, or set up a video- call.
Starting on August 19 , I will be the only person overseeing operations on the farm. The other three staff will
all be on the mainland until one returns sometime in September. This will probably be around 4 weeks, and will probably be a good challenge for me. We have also heard some good news regarding moving off campus into our apartment—we know what apartment we will be able to move into and know that it will likely happen “soon.” However, we are still waiting for the apartment to be ready (the arrival of a fridge from the mainland) and for our paperwork to finish getting verified (at least in our understanding). The apartments recently changed management and they are still figuring things out and getting organized. We are looking forward to this as we will have a kitchen and a real space to ourselves. This apartment will also provide us with more stability then the room we have on- campus. At the end of the month our second daughter, Yana, will be turning 3! We also have been getting some optimistic news regarding getting our son into the on-campus school this fall. He will be going into 1st grade. If this works out it will be great as he will be able to start building some community with others his own age from similar contexts and backgrounds. For now that is all, I don’t want to make this newsletter into a novel for all of your sakes!