Harvest Celebration Service

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Self Help Africa is an international development charity tackling hunger and poverty in 9 countries sub-Saharan Africa. These slides have been to produced to support churches and schools to talk about hunger, poverty, Africa and what we are doing to bring those things to an end.

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  • Section 1 - Talk NotesToday’s reading is one of the best known of all of Jesus’ parables. Mark 4:4-9
  • Yet it’s not really a story about the sower.
  • That story might revolve around the importance of using your seed wisely, taking time to sow in the right places. It’s not even the parable of the seed.
  • The meaning of the seed is less clear: it’s the “word”, or the seeds of the Kingdom. That maybe something overtly spiritual like sharing the Gospel, but if the Gospel is the good news about God’s plan to right the world’s wrongs, then sowing the seeds of the Kingdom might be anything that helps further that goal.
  • Actually, this is a parable about soil. If the soil is full of weeds, or it’s too thin or even absent entirely – in other words if the soil is in a poor condition – then the plant is done for, and even good seed and the farmer’s hard work will come to nothing. It’s typical of human nature that when we hear a parable such as this we tend to try to quickly relate it to our own experience rather than taking the time to think about the world into which it was spoken. Most of us can (perhaps distantly) remember walking on summer days through huge fields swelling with golden wheat, swaying gently in the breeze. It’s easy to picture such a scene when we hear such a parable and miss some of the subtleties of the story. We can imagine that the percentage that is wasted by sun, weeds and birds is fairly low; the roads and rocky areas are around the peripheries of the field; the amount lost, insignificant. Or we can imagine that the farmer is foolish, unthinking or lazy. If he just took a bit more care, he could either take out the weeds and stones first, or be more careful around the paths. Of course farming in Jesus’ day wasn’t about vast fields and a farming business. The people Jesus ministered amongst were landless and poor. Farming wasn’t about cash crops, it was about subsistence and eeking out just about enough to get by on to feed your family. They didn’t own the land they farmed, they rented it from a small rich elite, putting up with the faults of whatever they could afford. Yes, improvements could be made, but if the soil in your field was poor, there was only so much that could be done about it. Whilst farming in this country and many industrialised nations has moved on, in many places in today’s world the situation is surprisingly similar. Many farmers living in rural Africa are still living at or below subsistence level on small parcels of land they often do not own.
  • The soils in much of Africa often have poor fertility. Not only do they lack volcanic rejuvenation, but fertility is depleted by inappropriate land use, poor management and a lack of new nutrients bring added back in to the soil. As with today’s reading, the quality of the soil makes a big difference.
  • Dame and her husband (pictured here) farmed a small plot of land in Togo, West Africa. But yields were declining and they and their children were reduced to living off just one meal a day for 5 months of every year. The soil was poor and was gradually getting worse, meaning there was likely to be even less food in the future for Dame and her children. However, in 2011 Self Help Africa started a soil conservation project in Dame’s area. Farmers were taught about low cost methods to improve their soil such as compost pits,
  • stone bunds* and
  • zai pits* to improve soil fertility and crop yields. A well was dug and the farmers were provided with improved varieties of seed such as corn, soya and sorghum. They were also shown how to create low cost organic compost from the nonedible parts of their crops.
  • As a result, things have significantly improved for Dame and her family. They now eat at least two meals a day all the year round and can also afford other essential items such as schooling and clothing. It’s a modern day example of how the type of soil can make a difference. Dame’s family know, just as Jesus knew, that it’s what we sow into that makes a difference.
  • In Galatians 6:8-10 St. Paul also talks about sowing seed... “…whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…” This harvest there is a lot to think and pray about. You could think about what seed you might sow, or how you might soften the soil of people’s hearts before you sow it. Or you might think about sowing the seeds of God’s kingdom - where poverty and hunger are banished. But all of us should be grateful that we get more than one meal a day, and should pray and act to do what we can for those who do not.
  • Optional Kenyan saying“Treat the earth well. It was not to you by your parents. It is loaned to you by your children”
  • End of Talk Section
  • Prayers for use in a service/assembly
  • Section 3 – Thauzeni’s storyThauzeni is a farmer, a father and a resident of the Mkhonde village in central Malawi. He has two boys and two girls and the family have been subsistence farmers for years. Their region is one beset by the problems of recurrent droughts, a lack of fertilisers and poor access to safe water. Pests and disease mean that there is little livestock in the area and the average household has less than a hectare to farm (2.5 acres), too little to produce enough food to for a family of five. Self Help Africa has been working in the region since 2007 and came to Thauzeni’s community in 2011. We set up a group there and provided them with training: making compost, managing a farm and core business skills. The training transformed the family’s perception and understanding on what farming business is all about. In the first year alone they made extra income by using manure to grow more cabbages and tomatoes. The extra income meant the family could make substantial improvements to their farm and their home.
  • “We have managed to buy iron sheets, iron door and window frames and other building materials.” They were also able to purchase some goats and make bricks for their house. The extra income means Thauzeni’s family are now able not only to dream about their future, but map it out. In the years to come they are planning to buy an ox-cart to boost horticulture production - both by transporting farm produce to market and moving manure around the farm. “I am grateful for what Self Help Malawi did in my family as we are able to buy things that we could not afford to buy… Self Help Africa should continue training farmers.’’
  • Section 4 – About Self Help Africa. For over 30 years Self Help Africa has worked with rural communities to help them improve their farms and their livelihoods, tackling the poverty and hunger that blights the lives of over 234 million people.
  • Self Help Africa’s vision is of a rural Africa free from poverty and hunger. On a continent where up to 70-80% of people rely on small-scale agriculture for their survival, it is only by tackling the challenges faced by rural farming communities that real and continued economic progress can be made.
  • Together with its donors Self Help Africa was able to touch the lives of 918,000 people in 2012, across 52 projects in 9 countries.
  • So your support today means changed lives in Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, Benin, Ethiopia, Uganga, Kenya, Malawi and Zambia.
  • Our low cost, sustainable solutions provide practical help where it’s most needed. We don’t give hand outs or aid, rather, we want to ensure that families have the skills they need to grow enough food to feed themselves, earn a living and manage their own lives.
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