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Garden at Wis. church provides object lessons for community

GREENFIELD, Wis. (BP)–“A good theology inevitably produces a good garden,” reads a sign in the garden of the Old St. Mary’s Church in London.

Perhaps so, but Don Axt of Layton Avenue Baptist Church in Wisconsin thinks that just the opposite may be true as well. He hopes the garden he tends on the church’s property helps to shape and inform the theology of the youth he teaches.

Some four years ago Axt had a moment of inspiration that led him to develop the garden as an ongoing object lesson for his class and as an outreach opportunity into the neighborhood surrounding the church. He encouraged youth to be involved in all aspects of the garden — cultivating, planting, watering, weeding, and, finally, harvesting.

Following the first harvest, Axt and the teenagers went door-to-door to the houses nearby, offering neighborly greetings, free produce, and words of encouragement and witness as opportunities were presented.

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“It was a great way to get to know the people in those houses,” he said, referring to the numerous homes immediately adjacent to the church. “I found myself on people’s porches praying with them.”

Among the first lessons he taught was that ministry, like gardening, is hard, ongoing work requiring personal commitment, patience and perseverance.

Shortly after seeds and tender young plants were put into the garden in early spring, Axt asked the youth what they saw when they looked at the rectangular plot of soil. Most just saw dirt, but one young man said he saw beans, squash, and tomatoes, offering the teacher a segue for explaining how God sees each of them — not simply as they are, but as what they can become under His guidance and care.

Axt is quick to give others credit for their contributions to the garden with its bountiful yield of object lessons, but around the Layton Avenue church people know that he is the driving force behind the venture. They also benefit from the fruits of his and others’ labors, selecting a few fresh tomatoes or an oversized zucchini as they depart following Sunday worship.
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Keith Cogburn is director of missions for Lakeland Baptist Association. This story and photo first appeared in that association’s October 2003 newsletter. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SPIRITUAL LESSONS.