Side-by-side Comparisons

I have a friend who works in the “home-flipping” market. You know, buy cheap, re-hab the neglected home and then sell it at a profit. While some people do not like this industry, it can really help folks who are in desparate financial situations.

He and I were talking today at lunch about my recent trip to Africa. When I told him about the time I spent with a guy who is focusing on training small-plot farmers to use appropriate technology, he chuckled and quoted some speakers who periodically make presentations to the regional “flipping” group: “These principles will work in every city of the nation, except yours!”

That quote was used to point out our human tendency to rationalize our unwillingness to change. Most human beings will find reasons why the successes that come in other places cannot be duplicated where we live. We are often our own biggest obstacle to healthy change.

Why won’t they change? Why won’t we change? Those two questions came to my mind as I discussed the situation with my friend.

One of the techniques my new friend in Africa uses is side-by-side comparisons. He has trained people to do “no-till” farming of maize (corn)–the grain staple in the country where he lives. Rather than trying to get the small-plot farmers to convert all of their land to no-till, he gets them to agree to plant half of it no-till and the other half using their traditional method. The beauty of this methodology is the people get to see exactly how much the change helps. One half of their land produces the usual amount. What will they think when the other side produces 4-5 times as much? They cannot attribute the difference to the luck of a better year. These two sections received the same rainfall. The difference is the preparation of the small planting holes that were prepared during the dry season, just prior to the rainy season. A small amount of manure is worked into these holes and the micro-organisms of the surrounding areas are not disturbed. The ground holds its moisture better because it has not been tilled. Here the farmers are allowed to discover for themselves the reality that healthy changes can be fruitful.

I am excited about using such agricultural practices as access ministries because they model kingdom living. Think about how many of Jesus’ parables were based on agriculture. There is great benefit to learning from God’s design for our world to be fruitful and multiply. We learn patience. We are reminded of mystery. But we also learn the incredible role of the wise gardener–the importance of the vinedresser.

What might happen in sub-Saharan Africa if church planters train people in the best of small-plot farming? What kinds of transformation might come as emerging churches begin to use appropriate technology and are thus able to support sending church planting trainers out to nearby villages and regions. What might happen if sustainability became more than a buzz word thrown out at missions conferences and fund raising events.

Maybe I am just a dreamer. Maybe, just maybe, though, there is a way we can catalyze significant changes. The God of Scripture cares about the whole of life. Shalom involves wholeness.

I am excited about what the future may hold. I am excited that I get to spend time with people who don’t discount the concept that real change is possible. A wise friend has reminded me through the years, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.” Maybe there are people who are waking up to the possibility of changing some of what we are doing to healthier, more fruitful practices in hopes of getting better results!

We already know the results of traditional practices. Maybe some side-by-side comparisons will help us all.


  1. Exciting article. CPM is the first permanent solution I know of to “get the word out” Everything else I have been associated with is just a method with a shelf life. Vietnam also uses many of the CPM techniques.


  2. I was teaching a class this last semester on Matthew, and I could not agree with you more about the things God teaches us through agriculture. Reading the parables in Matthew 13 really teaches me that the Kingdom of God requires patience in all areas of my life (particulary with God and people). Love is patient!


    1. Dean, this is an area where I have real concerns about our American culture being so distanced from agriculture–we lack true patience. We think we can force things to happen that only come through the work of God. When we finally give up on making those things happen we decide to settle for the things we can manufacture and wonder why they are not truly satisfying.


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