Portland Church Creates Waterless Garden

What does a church do when it owns close to an acre of land on a lot located behind the church? At Your Bible Speaks Church (YBS) in Portland, Ore., where Louis Turner Jr. is the senior pastor, that question was up for debate.

Previously, the back lot was just there, and during the summer months the grass often needed to be mowed. Only fairly recently did the members of YBS decide to grow a waterless garden on the land adjoining their church. Although it was years before YBS came to the point where they were able to grow a garden, its eventual arrival was welcomed by previously skeptical church members. It was readily embraced by an onlooking, unchurched community as well.

According to Jean Ewell, YBS community services director, the request to plant a garden at the church was first made to the board several years ago. She thought it would be a way to meet the needs of the YBS community. Some of the common objections to the idea of planting a garden were the intensive labor required to till and prepare the soil, and there were costs associated with watering the plants.

These objections stood in the way until Tom Hall, local elder and farmer, arrived at YBS. As a local leader and treasurer at the church, Hall pondered how he might help those members of the community who might come to the church for aid and assistance. Tom discovered an answer to his query at the website www.backtoedenfilm.com. There he learned about Paul Gautschi and his waterless garden in Sequim, Wash. He thought that if the waterless garden worked for Gautschi, it might also work for the members of the YBS church.

Hall proposed growing a waterless garden to a skeptical church board, which reluctantly gave approval in the fall of 2012. Hall formed a gardening subcommittee as a part of the church’s community services department. In early 2013, at no cost to the church, Hall contacted tree servicing companies and asked them to dump wood chips — mulch consisting of tree leaves, tree bark and pine needles — on the back lot of YBS Church. Then the gardening committee spread out a layer of 40-pound craft paper on the ground and topped it with 4 to 8 inches of mulch to provide a nutrient-rich covering for seeds to grow in and hold the much-needed moisture that growing plants need.

After planting the seeds in the spring and giving careful attention to the plants, the gardening committee has reaped a bountiful harvest. Skeptics about the garden became believers as they tasted the harvest reaped from the organic garden. Rain that fell on the garden during the spring provided sufficient water to keep the garden growing during the relatively dry summer months.

The garden has become a vehicle for YBS members to reach their community. When the garden was first started, neighbors inquired as to what the church was doing. When they found out that a garden was being prepared, they vowed to notify the church of any unwanted intruders at or near the garden.

And, just as Jean Ewell predicted, the garden has blossomed into an outreach tool for the church. People are amazed at how the garden grows without topical water application. One woman, attracted to the garden, said she would visit the church during the Sabbath services.

As members of the gardening committee worked in the garden one Sunday, a woman came by and said that she was from New York. She said she had heard about the garden by word of mouth and came to see the waterless garden for herself. Who knows what the future may bring in the way of community contacts?

No doubt, this year’s garden is only the beginning of the YBS members' journey of faith, going forward into what the Lord has in store for them. As they testify to their community of God’s goodness to them, they will continue to rely upon the Lord to provide a bountiful harvest of souls, a direct result of their utilization of the waterless garden that God has given to them.