The roots of a mature Cassia tree are 13 feet deep. In Chole, Malawi, Shadrack Tsatautenda’s roots are deeper than that.

Tsatautenda has been cultivating Cassia trees for two years; the oldest are nearly ready to sell and transplant. Caring for the land, coaxing life out of the soil and guiding the trees to maturity connects him to the past, plants him firmly in the present and informs his vision for the future. Someday his children will inherit this land.

His nursery was made possible by a small-business loan from the Village Savings and Loan group established by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi and bolstered by ELCA World Hunger grants. In addition to providing microenterprise loans, it operates a farming school that trains local farmers on crop diversification and new planting methods.

Deforestation is a common issue for rural Malawian villages like Chole. As local businesses clear trees for farming or firewood, the air becomes polluted and the soil erodes more quickly.

With training he received from the farming school, Tsatautenda is caring for God’s creation while supporting his family.

“My faith encourages my work. And what gives me joy is that many people will be able to come and learn from me about how to conserve and care for their land.”

In 2016, he planted the first seedlings in his nursery, which today boasts 1,200 trees ranging from saplings to almost fully grown. Tsatautenda plans to sell the developed trees to area farmers by preaching their benefits. New trees reduce soil erosion and increase crop yields and clean the air while lowering health costs, he said.

On a tour of his nursery, Tsatautenda walked along paths, ran his hands over tree branches and surveyed the orchard in a way that conveyed the symbiotic nature of his relationship with the land. “This land has been in my family for five generations,” he said. “It is meaningful to me to look after the land of my ancestors, and I want to pass this land to future generations.”

Where Tsatautenda’s nursery ends, his neighbor’s farm begins and so on. He shares his nursery expertise with his customers and neighbors in their daily interactions. The knowledge will help his neighbors heal their land and use profits from increased crop yields to send their children to school.

“My faith encourages my work,” said Tsatautenda, a Christian. “And what gives me joy is that many people will be able to come and learn from me about how to conserve and care for their land.”

In Chole, this truth is lived out without exception: when the land binds you together, your neighbor’s burdens are your burdens, and your neighbor’s success is your success. Amid this holy dance, the church in Malawi is at work—yesterday, today and tomorrow.

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David Mills
David Mills is a writer and nonprofit professional based in Chicago.

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