Inch by Inch, Row by Row

Rain Forest

Revelation 7:16-17: He shall be their shepherd, and shall 
guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall
wipe every tear from their eyes.

I don’t know if you remember a John Denver song with that title, but if you do, you’re probably humming it right now.

I thought of it when I read an article recently about a man in India who single handedly brought back a rain forest.

I was in intrigued by this. I can’t get grass to grow, but an entire rain forest? The story bears consideration, I think.

As is the case with many other areas in the world, forests of all kinds are being clear cut and exploited for their resources without regard to the dire consequences for not only plants and animals but also for humans. What are called deforestation and desertification are critical problems in India that have resulted in barren land, increased soil erosion, decreased agricultural production, and devastated local wildlife.

However one Jadav Payeng made a stand – he single handedly planted and cultivated a 1,360 acre forest that is now home to a complex, thriving ecosystem.

As you might expect, this didn’t happen overnight. Payeng started his project 30 years ago when he was sixteen years old. In 1979, flood waters washed a large number of snakes ashore on a local sandbar in near his home. When the waters receded, Payneg (who was 16 at the time) noticed the reptiles had died due to a lack of tree cover.

He said this: “The snakes died in the heat. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there, but they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested.”

He chose to live on the sandbar, choosing a life of isolation as he began work to create a new forest. He planted seeds by hand, watered his plants in the morning and evening, and pruned them. After a few years, the sandbar was transformed into a bamboo thicket.

“I then decided to grow proper trees. I collected and planted them. I also transported red ants to enrich the soil from my village, and was stung many times,” he recalled.

Over the years, a huge variety of plants and animals now call the once-barren sandbar home, including endangered animals like the one-horned rhino and Royal Bengal tiger.

The Assam state forest department only learned about Payeng’s forest in 2008 when a herd of some 100 wild elephants strayed into it. Assistant conservator of forests Gunin Saikia met Payeng for the first time.

“We were surprised to find such a dense forest on the sandbar. Locals, whose homes had been destroyed by the pachyderms, wanted to cut down the forest, but Payeng dared them to kill him instead. He treats the trees and animals like his own children. Seeing what he had done, we decided to pitch in,” says Saikia. “We’re amazed at Payeng. He has been at this for 30 years.”

I think the application to our spiritual lives is evident. We can see an overwhelming mountain of need and give up on doing anything about it. Or, like Payeng, we can do what we can, where we are, with what we have. God will bless our efforts, and one day, the barren lands will become beautiful gardens. May it be so.

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