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Lessons from a Banana Tree – June 2020

In a few weeks, our family plans to put in some peanuts and sweet potatoes in our orchard for some cover crops. We’ve spent the week clearing the ground by hand and getting things ready. As I’ve been thinking about peanuts, I remembered a quote by George Washington Carver:

“When I was young, I said to God, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the universe.’ But God answered, ‘That knowledge is for me alone.’ So I said, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the peanut.’ Then God said, ‘Well George, that’s more nearly your size.’ And he told me.”

Well, as George already has covered peanuts, I’ve spent time reflecting on banana trees. We have a lot of orange, lime, lemons and lychees trees in our orchard.Yet, the ‘tree’ we have the most of is bananas, with around 120 planted. I think they are one of our most interesting ‘trees’ that we have here in Myanmar (Burma) with some extraordinary characteristics..

Banana tree. Notice how we propped it up with a bamboo pole to allow us time to collect its fruit. Another stalk next to it collapsed in the wind..

 

First off, did you know a banana tree isn’t even really a tree? It’s classified more as a giant herb because it contains no wood. What we think is a trunk is just an offshoot of a root clump. Second, unlike any other tree here, we plant them in the hot season. Now hot season means around 110 degrees F, and the humidity is a killer. We’ll go to a nearby grove, pick out some shoots dig them up and replant these trees without any water at all. Now, who has ever heard of a tree surviving that kind of shock? But they do, and they actually do better when planted in the hot season. Third, they aren’t stable and are very top-heavy. Usually, after a strong storm, we’ll find a few have broken. When a banana tree does begin to bear fruit, they tend to have to be propped up with pieces of bamboo. Fourth, they are pretty easy to find. When you go into the jungle, you can find them growing almost anywhere. Their real growth and offshoots come from underground, something unseen, so if you see one banana tree, it won’t be too long until you see another. Thats why they grow so quickly in the jungle. Finally, after a few years, they tend to stop giving off fruit and need to be replanted. However, you just take a shoot from the original clump called a corm that has grown. Replant one of those shoots a short distance away, and then they’ll come right back and give you fruit within the following year.

When I look at all our trees around our property, a banana tree reminds me of who I really am as a disciple of Christ.

To begin with, sometimes we as Christians want to make ourselves look like what a Christian should be. But the gospel is not about what I attempt to be, but who God has made me to be. Sure, I’d love to be some great and strong tree, but in truth, I’m not a tree at all. Just a herb that God created to be fruitful. Nothing wrong with that, but a crucial step in my growth as a disciple is to recognize who I am and not pretend to be something I am not.

Second, God doesn’t tend to plant his disciples in calm conditions. On the contrary, he desires us to strive in the hottest of times and places. I think a lot of us have been put in an uncomfortable place during these tumultuous last few months. Whether it’s been COVID-19 or race relations in the USA, the heat feels as if it’s been turned up a little. Yet, maybe this is a time which God has planted and called us to live and flourish in. Sometimes, we need these pressures to force us to grow strong roots and bear the fruit God wants us to produce.

Even from a rotten stalk, new growth can shoot up.

Third, and I hate to admit this because of the American independent streak in me, but I’m not very strong. Sure, I look all green and nice, but when a big storm comes, there’s a good chance I’ll falter. I need support, and I’m thankful that the Lord watches over me (like a gardener who props me up with bamboo poles) and gives me a family and church, which helps me to weather those difficult times. But what happens if I do break? Well, that’s something else that is so cool about a banana tree. Even in the rotten stalk that has broken, a new tree will often take root and bloom again.

Fourth, every day I serve overseas, I grow all the more astounded at how the global church is growing and will continue to grow. You’d be surprised how banana trees can just grow and take over places. Once they take root, they’ll find a way to multiply. I’m so thankful to be playing a minor role as a missionary to proclaim God’s kingdom. This past week was a particularly exciting one for me as I spent time teaching a world missions course online to some Thai believers. It was wonderful to be speaking in Thai again, and be among Thai brothers and sisters who want their church to become more engaged in cross-cultural mission work. This has been a prayer of mine for so many years. My many years of doctoral study were for this aim and when I left Thailand, I was a little disheartened to have left without seeing this task through. To say I was excited to be invited to engage Thai Christians with God’s call for missions, is an understatement. I’m looking forward to more opportunities like this in the future.

Finally, just like a banana tree after a few years, I might need to be replanted. My theology is one that seeks reformation. Because I am a sinner, I need to recognize that my views are not 100% correct and that they might need some new scenery. I can’t take myself out of the garden (or out of the authoritative boundaries of scripture), because that will lead me to bear less fruit or none whatsoever. I need God as my caretaker. Still, sometimes a change is necessary for me to bear fruit, which the Lord calls me to do. I need to be open and willing for me to undergo such a change.

There is a lot to think about when you look at a banana tree. I trust God is going to use my reflections on banana trees, to teach me more about myself. More importantly, may God use it to teach me more about Himself. I hope you learned something from this banana tree post and may be encouraged by it too.