I’m not a skilled gardener. I know little about plants, flowers, soil types, or gardening techniques. During the time of COVID confinement earlier this year, my kids and I planted a variety of seeds and have since harvested a sad handful of each type of vegetable. Just yesterday my son pulled a single red tomato from the plant, and we wondered if the other tiny green ones would ever become red. Because of my lack of horticultural knowledge or talent, I find great encouragement in the passages of Scripture that speak of God’s effectiveness and expertise as a gardener.
One such passage, the parable of the sower (found multiple places – Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8), is a familiar one to most of us. We relate to the images of God as the sower and of His Word, the seed, falling on different types of heart-soils. As a missionary, I occasionally think about this parable as I talk to a friend about Jesus and pray that the good news takes root in the soil of her heart. The image of soil can also be a helpful one when we speak of missions in a certain context, be it a city, a people-group, a country, or even a continent.
Just as one word cannot capture the spiritual landscape of the United States, no one adjective can describe the soil of Europe. Even within Western Europe, where I’ve lived for several years, many spiritual distinctions exist among different countries and cultures. In general, however, Europe is considered to be “post-Christendom.” Christianity has a rich history here, but Europe as a culture has moved beyond the Christian worldview into secular humanism. The spiritual soil possesses almost none of the cultural receptors to Christianity that one might find in many parts of America; Biblical Christianity and the God of the Bible are viewed at best as relics that some people still find useful and at worst as tools of oppression wielded throughout European history. Many Europeans have no concept of church other than the large building in the center of town that often attracts more tourists than worshippers.
Just as one word cannot describe the spiritual climate in Europe, neither can a single label be placed on its socioeconomic situation. As in the United States, Europe contains wealth and poverty – those who live in financial security and those who struggle greatly. However, Europe and the United States do share the distinction of being highly-developed continents on which the general standard of living is much higher than many parts of the world. To put it bluntly, Europeans and Americans generally enjoy comforts that many other parts of the world lack. But the trouble with comfort is that it quickly becomes life’s pursuit and makes attractive but false promises of joy, for material ease often brings with it a blindness to the deep needs of the soul. As Christians in Europe we sow the seeds, sometimes over many years, looking for openings to point people to the True Joy-Giver; God is at work, and the global Church is growing.
In recent years, God has tilled the soil of Europe by bringing many migrants to the continent. They come from a variety of places but come seeking a refuge from an often-unstable homeland. Many arrive in extreme poverty, wishing they could have stayed in their home countries, but looking to Europe as a haven from a situation that was no longer sustainable. Some of them have come from countries in which the gospel cannot be openly proclaimed, meaning that churches and individual Christians in Europe have opportunities to not only meet their physical needs but also to share about Jesus, the True Refuge of our souls, with people from countries that would be challenging, if not impossible, to access otherwise. The “ends of the earth” have come to Europe, and the global Church is growing.
God’s Word Will Not Return Void
Another passage that encourages me as a mostly unsuccessful gardener is found in Isaiah 55:10-11: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” I might sow seeds that do not reap a harvest, that never flourish into a plant, but God’s Word never returns to Him empty or void. It “accomplishes” what God intends for it to do and “succeeds” at the task for which God sends it. I draw encouragement from this passage not only for evangelism but also for parenting and for my own personal time in the Word!
We do not have the eyes to see God’s purposes each time His Word is proclaimed in a church pulpit or on a friend’s patio; it may bring about saving faith in the heart-soil of one person and simply begin the stirrings of longing in the heart-soil of another. Or perhaps it strengthens the struggling faith of the one speaking it. But it will never return void to the Master Gardener. Armed with these truths, we sow seeds in Europe just as Christians do all around the world. We trust that God has many for salvation on this continent; we see gospel conversations being had, new churches being planted, existing churches growing, and people coming to faith.
About the Author:
Katy and her family hail from Memphis, Tennessee, but they currently serve as missionaries in Europe: they spent three years in Madrid, Spain, and currently live and work in Brussels, Belgium. Katy’s main passions are supporting her husband Daniel and being mom to their two children, Annabelle and Harry, but she also enjoys reading, writing, drinking cappuccinos, and eating chocolate. She blogs at katybrink.com and in 2016 published an eBook called Clotheslines and Callings: Home Is Where My Laundry Is, based on her cross-cultural experiences.