Bruce French of Food Plants International reflects on God’s amazing provision of edible plants and our calling to live out our faith by being good stewards of Creation and loving our neighbour.
Sadly, some people have separated their spiritual lives and their practical lives, instead of exploring the outworking of their faith in the God who sustains the universe and cares about the whole world and everything in it both visible and invisible. This Biblical framework is carefully explained in Colossians 1:15-20. Paul was writing to a group of isolated Christians who had develop an inadequate understanding of the Christian faith (Colossians 1:9ff). The outworking of this dualistic view in our day is the underlying cause of global warming and causes hunger and malnutrition amongst millions of people. As Christians we should be actively involved in putting our faith into action in the hurting world or, as the apostle James said, we have a faith that is dead and useless and can’t save us. (James 2:1)
Equally, some people see a fundamental discontinuity in the separation of the Bible into Old and New Testaments, instead of them seeing them together as a coherent fulfilment of God’s purposes throughout history. They look back to Genesis 3 and see a story about Adam and Eve eating apples from a tree in their garden but fail to understand that a ‘tree of knowledge or good and evil’ is a far more embracing temptation to all people as they make life choices. So, God’s appeal to Adam (the first man) to “work and take care” of God’s garden (Gen. 2.15) is a call to good stewardship of creation. Thankfully, today most food on planet earth is grown by women – as they seem to have a greater inbuilt concern for the well-being of their families.
As I reflect on life, I become deeply grateful for God’s continual guidance and help. While studying agriculture it was a stipulation of the University that we did practical work on farms. Having grown up on a farm, I decided to get adventurous and 57 years ago went to do my practical on a Baptist mission farm in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. I fell in love with the country so after marriage we took our 6-week-old daughter to the jungles in Bougainville where I was the agricultural officer. Later I was invited to teach food crop production in what is now the University of Conservation and the Environment, in Papua New Guinea and on arrival the students asked that I teach them about local food plants and methods that suited their country. This set my life’s journey. Now I have compiled the world’s largest information system on edible plants of the world in a database covering over 35,000 edible plant species. This has involved travel to about 39 countries, short term consultancies with a range of international organisations (FAO, World Bank, etc) and speaking at several international conferences. I have produced a range of books on food crop production making sure the English is easily understandable by the target audience. Because I was specifically asked by Christian churches to do the publication on Growing Food Plants in Fiji, I felt free to explain both the Biblical principles and agricultural practices. It has been downloaded thousands of times from our website (www.foodplantsinternational.com)
These days biodiversity, sustainability, agroecology and similar words are regularly used but we need to put some flesh on them to enable them to be a reality for the good of the planet and good food and nutrition for all.
Thankfully, there is a bonus for Christians who put their faith into practice. Isaiah seeks to discourage artificial ‘spiritual’ exercises like “fasting” and instead appeals to people to seek to help those already hungry or fasting. (Isaiah 58:6ff). So, I have the verse (Is. 58:10,11) above my work desk: “If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, your light will rise in the darkness… the LORD will guide you always, he will satisfy your needs … and strengthen your frame, … and sustain you.”
Some of our information can be found on our website (www.foodplantsinternational.com) including lots of reflections through my monthly newsletters but lots of other resources such as the thousands of posters are only available on USB as we haven’t yet got them on our website. An updated database will be uploaded soon.
Bruce French has worked in agriculture in Papua New Guinea and Tasmania, lectured in Food Crops at Vudal Agricultural College. He has also lectured in Theological College and worked with Scripture Union in Schools and with the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Universities.
He has done a range of short-term consultancies with FAO, World Bank, CSIRO, ISHS, Bioversity and others and spoken as international plant conferences in a number of countries. He has also spoken at churches of various denominations, contributed to Christian conferences and been a part time pastor.
Bruce has received an Order of Australia Award, and Senior Tasmania 2022 award. He continues to pursue his love for Food Plants and his love for Bible Teaching seeking to put his faith into practice in an informed manner in a needy world.