During a season in Ecuador as a college-aged “summer missionary,” I gained 10 pounds. The culprit was delicious fresh-baked bread from the open-air market, which tasted so much better than the plastic-wrapped stuff from the supermarket back home. I ate a generous portion every day.
I recognize now that it wasn’t just the absence of preservatives that gave the bread its flavor. Back then the wheat in that part of the country was still locally grown. Today, farming is more efficient but far less diverse, and most of Ecuador’s wheat is imported from North America.
The same thing is true of corn in Mexico, the birthplace of all corn grown around the world. Maize was domesticated 7-10,000 years ago by indigenous people in what is now the state of Oaxaca.
When I learned recently of a man who is trying to preserve the centuries-old varieties of heirloom corn by creating a market for it in the US, I was ready to head off immediately in search of tortillas made from that kind of masa. In a world of mass-produced tacos, he says, we don’t know what we’re missing.
I wonder if, at our best, Brethren are like small-scale farmers. We are more about relationship than quick success. We value tastiness and nutrition over profit. We see the potential in a seed. Small-scale farming isn’t easy, that’s true. The slow food movement isn’t too much of a threat to the fast-food industry. Likewise, the slow church movement isn’t about to overtake the American church. But we’re used to being small in size and large in influence.
Large in influence? Our influence may not seem noteworthy, but it outstretches our numerical size in multiple ways—organizations planted by the Brethren and now bearing fruit for others, education in Nigeria and Haiti, commitment to peace recognized by the Selective Service. We can see the evidence of faith like a mustard seed.
“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23).
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.