Saturday, June 25, 2011

Farmer Fred and the Three Visitors



     Once upon a time there was a farmer named Fred. Farmer Fred lived on a small farm in the heartland of the United States and had been farming for years. He understood the hard work and investment of time that was required to grow a crop. He also knew that from time to time because of a freeze, a fire, a tornado, or a drought, everything would be destroyed and he would have to start all over again. He understood and accepted that fact, because he knew that farming wasn't done in a day or a week. He knew that farming was a lifelong work, with success being the sum total of daily labor and long-term tenacity.
     One day a man dropped in for a visit with Farmer Fred. The visitor smiled real big, extended his hand, and said jovially, "I'm Big Bob". Then after a few moments of casual conversation, he got right to the point.
     "Farmer Fred," he said, "I admire your work, but it just seems so small! You know, years ago I farmed a little plot like you. I had my little farm, complete with a little red barn, a cute little silo, and a little farmhouse with a little picket fence. I grew some green beans, some corn, and a few acres of wheat. We were happy there for awhile. God was blessing our farm. But one day the thought hit me: My little 100-acre farm is so inconsequential! There are millions of acres of ground all over the world that need to be farmed. I figured if reaping a harvest on 100 acres was good, then reaping a harvest on a million acres would be outstanding!"
     While Farmer Fred was standing there listening, he was feeling a strange mix of emotions - a slight tinge of regret for the relatively little he had to show for his years of farming, and at the same time a growing admiration for this man with such a grand vision. He wanted to know about this "million-acre farm".
     "So what'd you do next?" he asked.
     "Well, I got rid of my farm, got me a bag of seeds, and just started sowing seeds all over, everywhere there was dirt. Our entire state became my farm. In fact, these days I venture into a dozen other states as well. At last count I've sowed seed in 18 different states and even 7 foreign countries! Like I said before, my reach and influence is so much broader now that I have traded in my one farm for this multi-state approach. I feel so much more fulfilled now than I ever did before."
     Farmer Fred said, "I can certainly understand that." Then he continued, "I'll have to admit that there are times when I feel frustrated by a poor harvest or the long wait that is required."
     "Exactly!" exclaimed Big Bob. "That's why I enlarged my vision. Now I'm not just stuck in a little corner of nowhere beating my head against the wall. My days of spinning my wheels are behind me. I'm traveling the world! I'm making a real difference now!"
     Farmer Fred was impressed. But being a thinker, he had some questions too. 
    "You know, I find that farming is real time-consuming. Clearing a field, plowing, planting, irrigation, harvesting - however do you manage to do all of that in multiple locations?"
     "Oh, I don't do all those things." came the ready reply.
     "You don't do those things?"
   "No. See, I'm a farmer-at-large. I do some of those things, but never all of them in one place. Sometimes I plant, but I don't water those seeds. Sometimes I water seeds that I didn't plant. But my very favorite thing to do is harvest. You know, I'd love to just harvest all the time if I could."
     "Wouldn't we all," muttered Farmer Fred under his breath. He was starting to lose his infatuation with "million-acre-farming"; nevertheless, he retained his friendly and neighborly demeanor. 
     "So you plant seeds and then just move on...is that what you are saying?" he asked.
     "That's right - I plant, water, harvest, whatever...then I move on. But it's not like I abandon the crop."
     "Well, that's a relief," replied Farmer Fred. "So who continues your work when you go to a new field?"
     "I get local farmers to work with me. Oftentimes I go into the field and plant the seeds, then they take over. But the best case scenario is when I can arrive in a field just in time for harvest. Like I said, harvest is my favorite. Then after I harvest a field a local farmer needs to gather the crop into their barn, because I usually have somewhere else I need to be."
     Farmer Fred waited patiently until Big Bob had said his piece before responding. Then he said, "I find this all very fascinating indeed. I'm certainly in favor of a big harvest. After all, it's my favorite part of the process too. Hey listen, Big Bob, since you have a lot of experience in farming, could I ask you a favor?"
     "Sure, anything you need. I'm here to help."
     "Ok, good. See...there's these fields just to the west of me..."
     Big Bob interrupted, "I didn't know there was somebody farming over in that area. That's great! What's the farmer's name?"
     "No, there isn't someone there. That's the thing. Those fields need a farmer so badly. I just know a crop could be grown there. But I'm so busy with the time-consuming work of my own farm that I haven't gotten to those fields just west of here. Now don't get me wrong - it won't be quick or easy. Those fields are a mess. There's a lot of junk that needs to be cleared from the fields before you can plow. There won't be a harvest any time soon, but I know that deep down, there is some rich, fertile soil there just waiting for seeds to be planted."
     Farmer Fred was so passionate about those fields to the west of his farm that his eyes glistened with tears as he spoke. Finally he held out his hand to the farmer-at-large and said, "Well...what do you think, Big Bob? Will you come and help us?"
     But this wasn't the kind of favor that the farmer-at-large was anticipating. He had hoped to be allowed to spend a few days planting the seeds on a new field that Farmer Fred had just finished clearing. Or better yet, he had envisioned himself getting to spend a week in a field that was ready to harvest.
     "Farmer Fred, I really appreciate you asking me to work those nearby fields, but that's just not the kind of farming I do. It's too small in it's scope. I traded in my drop-in-the-bucket for a whole ocean. And besides - I need to be in South America by next Thursday."

*****

     Weeks went by. Farmer Fred got a good harvest out of one of his fields. Locusts destroyed 80% of another field, and a hailstorm destroyed the entire crop in a third. Farmer Fred just hitched up his mule, cleared the field, and started over.

*****


     One day another guest dropped by to see Farmer Fred. He identified himself as Ralph the Reaper, a no-nonsense, results-oriented farmer. "Nice place you got here," he said, but that was where the pleasantries ended. Immediately he began to ply Farmer Fred with questions about numbers and results and yield. "How many bushels of wheat do you produce each year? How about your fruits and vegetables? How are they doing? How many baskets of green beans did you bring in last year? How many last month? How many last week?"
     "To be honest with you, sir, it's not been a great year for harvesting, but still..."
     Ralph the Reaper quickly cut off Farmer Fred and said, "If it hasn't been a good year for harvesting, then it hasn't been a good year at all. As farmers, our one and only concern is the harvest."
     The man seemed pretty sure of himself, so Farmer Fred decided to just let him talk.
     "How long have you been farming here?" he asked.
     "Twenty-five years."
     "Wow! I would think you would have more to show for it than this."
     "Well, I would love to have more to show for it, but farming is very slow work you know."
     "Not the way I do it."
     This piqued Farmer Fred's interest. He had never heard anyone claim that farming could be done quickly. "What do you mean?" he asked.
   "You should move more quickly. Sow, reap, sow, reap, sow, reap. That's the way it is supposed to work. I noticed as I came up the lane today that you have multiple fields which should be reaped by now."
     "But they haven't been reaped yet because they aren't ready. I'm waiting until they are ripe, and then I will harvest them."
   But Ralph the Reaper was adamant.  "I see your problem. You've bought into this whole concept that crops must develop over time. A lot of time is wasted by waiting. There are too many fields to plant, too many crops that need to be raised. We don't have time to let things hang on vines and cling to stalks."
     Farmer Fred could tell right away that this man knew nothing about true farming, but out of simple curiosity he asked, "And how do you do it?"
     "Well it's not really that difficult. I plant seeds, and as soon as I see a little green poking up through the dirt, I pick it!"
     "And if it's not ripe?"
     "That's not my problem. My concern is with the harvest."
     "And how is that working out for you?"
     "Well, to be honest with you, a pretty low percentage of the crops are of high quality. Most are not usable once we get them into the barn. But I just know that doesn't mean we are harvesting too early. It's got to be something else."
     Farmer Fred could see he was not going to get anywhere with this man, so he changed the subject and asked why the man had stopped by. 
     "So what can I do for you today?"
     "Well, like I said...I was driving down the road alongside of your farm and I noticed the field of young corn coming up."
     "Yes, sir!" replied Farmer Fred proudly. "I've worked hard on that field, and I'm thrilled to see the field turning green with growth after all the work."
     Farmer Fred thought the man must have simply stopped to compliment his beautiful corn field with it's straight rows and neat fences. But that wasn't really what he had in mind. Ralph the Reaper said, "Yep I saw that field of young corn shooting up and I thought what a joy it would be to reap them. So, can I help you?"
     "Well, I suppose if it means that much to you and you want to come back over in about 3 months when it's time to harvest, I'd be much obliged to have your help. Sure!"
     "Three months?!! I was actually wanting to do it today." 
     "Well, in that case," replied Farmer Fred, "I guess I don't need your help after all. If you're going to pull up crops that aren't ripe, I would appreciate it if you would do it somewhere other than on my farm."
     As Ralph the Reaper hurried down the lane, Farmer Fred heard him muttering, "I just don't see why some guys insist on such slow farming methods."

*****


     Time continued to march on. Farmer Fred did indeed harvest the field of corn that the man had wanted to pluck up prematurely. And because he let it get nice and ripe and mature on the stalk, it ended up making some of the best seed corn he had ever had. The next year when he planted his corn, he was so glad he had insisted on picking the corn only when it was ready to be picked or he would not have had seed corn to replant.

*****

     One day Farmer Fred heard a voice loudly hailing him from the road. He went down the lane to his main gate and met a nice man, a friendly man, who introduced himself as Shortcut Sam and then wasted no time in saying what was on his mind.
     "Farmer Fred, I've heard a lot about your farm. You've been at it for a good long while. But I think I could really help to streamline your operation so you could get a lot more bang for your buck, if you know what I mean."
    Farmer Fred was a little wary of the man's introduction, especially after Big Bob and Ralph the Reaper; nevertheless, he decided to give this new man a chance to say what he came to say. "I'm listening," said Farmer Fred.
     "Well, it's like this. Your approach is too complicated. I've been watching how you do things. It seems like you put an awful lot of time into pointless labor. For example, you choose a field, then you put a bunch of time into clearing it. After it's cleared you spend a good long while turning over the dirt with your plow. After you've plowed, you plant, and then the work really starts. I've seen you spend hours and hours out in your fields irrigating them, pulling up weeds, and chasing away crows and critters. Then after all that work, after weeks and weeks of working dawn 'til dusk, the crop fails! Don't you see it, man? You're spending too much time on crops that fail."
     "There is no doubt about it, I have poured a lot of time over the years into crops that failed," replied a somber Farmer Fred.
     "That's right! You see, the way I farm, I don't waste time on failed crops. I only want to work with the best, the strongest, the most vivacious of crops."
     "But how do you do that?" asked Farmer Fred sincerely.
     "The key is, you have to be shrewd! Hey, we're not trying to find the most difficult path to success, right? There's always a better, smarter, more efficient, more streamlined way to do anything."
     "You mean a shortcut?"
     Shortcut Sam grinned. "Now you're getting it."
     "To be shrewd means you only work in fields that have a high probability of success. I don't fiddle around clearing, plowing, and planting seeds that aren't too likely to yield a good crop. You have to kind of hang back at first. Don't rush right into anything. The field may turn out to be a loser. Don't commit your time, your effort, or your resources until you are sure you have the best."
     By this time Farmer Fred was scratching his head. "I'm totally lost now. The way I've always understood farming to work, there is a process that is required. When we clear a field, plow a field, plant a field, water a field, and chase birds from a field, we have no way of knowing the outcome of that crop ahead of time. Seems to me that farming requires risk-taking. And taking a risk means investing yourself in something that might fail. After we have done all we can do, the crop may indeed fail. That's up to the good Lord. But if we believe enough in our farming, we just try again. We'll have a crop turn out by and by, but we just have to be patient and keep working."
     Shortcut Sam rolled his eyes. He had heard this before. "Look, Farmer Fred, you can stick with the old ways if you want to, but the farmers who are on the cutting edge will soon pass you by."
     "Cutting edge?"
     "Farmer Fred, you may not know this, but there are several experts out there right now who are developing new techniques for farming. I'm talking about techniques that will revolutionize the industry. For example, there is a new method out there now that causes only good, usable wheat to grow in your wheat field, and virtually eliminates the chaff. I mean, think about it! Do you really have time to separate the wheat from the chaff? With this new technique, the unpleasantries are made unnecessary. It's amazing! But you want to know the most groundbreaking research that's going on right now? (Obviously you haven't been keeping up on this stuff.) Soon there will be tools and methods in place where a farmer might obtain "the cream of the crop" without the hassle of actually growing a crop."
     But Farmer Fred had had enough. "Stop!" he cried. "Young man, I hate to tell you this, but you've been listening to way too many people who are long on theories but short on experience. Let me tell you something, and you can take this to the bank: There are no shortcuts in farming."
     Shortcut Sam realized that he was fighting a losing battle, so he said curtly, "Suit yourself, Farmer Fred," and made his exit.

*****

     Thirty years later, Farmer Fred sat on the front porch of his farmhouse with Mrs. Farmer Fred, looking over their farm. It was just about harvest time, and the fields were glistening with wheat and corn and vegetables. There were many more fields now than there were in those early years. They had added orchards and some vineyards too. Even though many of the crops were yet in the fields, the barn and silo were already overflowing with bounty.
     "God has been good to us, dear," said Farmer Fred.
     "Indeed he has" replied his wife.
     As he sat there enjoying the cool breeze and the sunset, his mind took him way back to three visitors who had once visited his farm. He was glad he hadn't listened to Big Bob, the farmer-at-large. Gazing across the fruit of a lifetime of labor, the thought suddenly occurred to him. "This work would never have been accomplished had I not planted myself in this place and made this farm my life's work."
     He was also glad he hadn't listened to Ralph the Reaper. He thought, "Had I plucked up every unripe piece of grain or fruit that poked through the ground I would have never had anything to replant. This farm would have died off years ago."
     His mind wandered back to Shortcut Sam's big ideas. "I wonder what ever became of him. I wonder if he ever realized that you can't skip over all the long, hard work of farming and just go straight to the blessings. And I wonder if he ever decided to take a risk."


*****


12 Takeaways From the story of Farmer Fred:
1. If you want to plant a church, first plant yourself.
2. If you want the cream of the crop, you must first plant a crop.
3. If you are reticent to take a risk and invest time, labor, and resources in an uncertain crop, you will never see the cream of the crop.
4. Missionary work is long, hard, repetitious, and tedious.
5. Sometimes the people who take the longest to reach make the most solid Christians and leaders.
6. It does not make sense to say, "God has burdened me for a certain country, but if there are no missionaries there yet, I can't go." Maybe the fact that no one is there is the reason God burdened you.
7. You must work with many people who will eventually wash-out in order to find the ones who won't.
8. If everybody quit their "small" works to be missionaries-at-large, the missionaries-at-large would be out of business. The larger boats float on the "drops-in-the-bucket".
9. There are no shortcuts in missions.
10. Fast results are a blessing when they are genuine and "of God", but more often than not, fast results are empty.
11. You will fail many times, but failure is not the end unless you let it be.
12. Just like in farming, there is no true success in missions without investing your life, dirtying your hands, dealing with disappointment, and remaining 100% committed to the cause.

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write this. The 12 takeaways from the story should be taught in missions classes in Bible colleges everywhere. I will come back to these 12 takeaways many times during my lifetime for encouragement, I'm sure. This blog is a great blessing to many people!

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  2. Well! Glory! I couldn't have said it better myself. In fact, those are some thoughts I have had for a long time but couldn't put into words. Great job! This is a great expose of some basic Biblical principles. I hope that many will read this before they are visited by Big Bob (is this your best choice of words?), Ralph the Reaper, and/or Short Cut Sam. I agree, this should be required reading by all serious missions students and also pastors making support decisions with their ever more valuable missions' dollars.

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  3. Chad and Dad, thanks for the encouraging comments.

    Dad, would it help if I called the guy Big Bert or Big Buford? Big Bob just had a ring to it that I couldn't escape:)

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  4. Thanks...This was a very encouraging story...here in Brazil..It is a long, hard tedious work. I agree..this should be taught to all future missionaries and pastors alike. Thanks again..Dwayne Spear

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  5. I kind of like "Big Bubba"! Great illustration(s) Stephen! Did you write this yourself?
    Smiths in Estonia

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  6. R. B. Yeager/The Old TeacherJuly 18, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    You're a gifted writer. I believe you have a book or two in you. Better get started!

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