I’m embarrassed to admit it. I’m a city boy. When I was a kid my dad took me to the front yard and tried to show me how to plant flowers. He said “Paul, you've got to get some experience with your hands.” I stared at the colorful little packets with pictures of beautiful flowers. Excited to brighten up the yard, ripped the packets open and I planted those seeds. Over the next few weeks I waited expectantly. Eventually they sprouted. Then wilted. Then died.

From that time until now, I've never planted anything else.

6bMy TransformNation students were born and raised in rural villages. They have extensive farming experience, and I am in awe of their agricultural expertise. Recently I asked them to make presentations about how to farm. Speechless, I listened as they went into great detail about the differences between wet and dry rice farming, the intricacies of irrigating land, how deep and far apart to plant various kinds of seeds, and how to protect crops from rats and birds. They described precisely how to plant corn seeds, based on the variety of corn being planted. They explained how to farm sweet potatoes, red peppers and fruit trees.

Jesus shared a story about a sower who went out to a field and sprinkled his seeds around. They fell by the wayside, on stony places, and among thorns. Some seeds showed promise but they ended up choked and parched or snatched up. Other seeds fell into healthy soil and they produced a crop. I asked my students to help me understand the parable.

And this is where things got interesting.

I had always thought the point of the story was “Don’t be bad soil. Be good soil so that the seeds will be safe and fruitful inside of us.” But for my students who come from a background in farming, Jesus’ story begins immediately with a problem. From their perspective, this parable is about a wasteful sower who scattered his seeds all over the place. He lost half of his harvest because he didn’t plant carefully. The point of the story is that the sower needs to slow down. He needs to put in the work, and to be more attentive to plant his seeds in the soil that has been prepared correctly.

I was floored by this interpretation. As a teacher, this makes so much sense. In the learning process, the burden is not only on children to be good learners. Perhaps even more importantly, teachers must know how to sow our seeds in good “heart soil.” Inexperienced teachers stand up in front of a class and started talking. They have little awareness of how receptive the “heart soil” of their students is. Great teachers prepare the hearts of their students before imparting knowledge. They ask insightful questions to ignite their students’ curiosity. They relate their lessons to the experiences of their students. Then, when students are leaning forward in their seats, great teachers plant seeds in good soil. Those are the seeds that prosper.

Pray for Mustard Seed teachers, who every day are plowing, sowing and harvesting seeds in the hearts of village children across Indonesia. Pray also for TransformNation students, who are preparing to become workers in the field.

Paul Richardson