With an evangelistic message embedded, a cacao tree-raising initiative offers a welcome economic boost to rural communities
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.—Missionaries in South America have come up with a novel way of encouraging people to respond to the Bible’s invitation to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
They have started a project growing cacao trees—the source of chocolate—that aims to help improve income and also present a picture of the gospel as it is expressed in Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
The initiative is taking place in Shell, Ecuador, where Reach Beyond (www.reachbeyond.org) has been involved in broadcast and medical ministry for nearly 86 years. An 8,600-square-foot greenhouse has been constructed on land adjacent to Reach Beyond’s former hospital there under the leadership of Dutch missionary Wim de Groen, the organization’s community development director.
Since 20,000 cacao trees (plus 2,000 orange trees) were planted earlier this year, several hundred people from surrounding communities have expressed interest in learning from the Reach Beyond team how to raise the plants successfully.
The cacao growing project will provide ongoing contact for Reach Beyond workers with villagers where they have previously worked on clean water projects, giving them an opportunity to share their faith. And it also has a gospel message at the heart of it—the careful grafting required that ensures a good harvest.
“It’s a wonderful example of how we need to be grafted in to Jesus to bear good fruit,” said de Groen. “And as people walk around their trees and tend them, they will have this lesson constantly in front of them.”
The Reach Beyond cacao project, officially dedicated recently with a ceremony at the greenhouse that included sampling some roasted cacao beans, picks up on a previous government effort to encourage cacao growing as a source of income. Ecuador has become a leading producer of cacao in recent years, but the attempt to extend the industry to the eastern Amazon region has failed because of inadequate training.
Now locals are being invited to the Reach Beyond greenhouse to learn how to grow cacao well, with de Groen and other Reach Beyond workers planning to visit surrounding communities to check on progress. A local processor has already expressed interest in buying whatever is harvested, promising an economic boom to communities where day laboring and artisanal craft-making have been main sources of income.
“People are very excited about it, and they all want to know how to get involved,” said de Groen, with local officials also expressing appreciation. “We have been surprised how little it has cost,” he said—$12,000 to build and equip the greenhouse and $2,000 for the plants.
There has been a side benefit to the cacao project, too. The expert who helped de Groen and his team learn about cacao farming also showed them how some of the surplus produce bags could be recycled as miniature plots for vegetables. Now people are using them to grow carrots, cucumbers, lettuces, radishes and tomatoes next to their homes.
“It has been really neat to see something else that we could not have imagined come out of this,” said de Groen.
Founded in 1931 as broadcasting ministry, Reach Beyond has since expanded into healthcare and leadership development, continuing its work in Ecuador and also partnering with other agencies around the world.
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Reach Beyond (reachbeyond.org) is a media- and medical-based evangelical ministry with operations on five continents. It spreads the message of Jesus in places that are primarily unreached or unengaged in the gospel. Reach Beyond uses media, including radio broadcasts, webcasts, social media and the distribution of solar-powered radios. It also reaches out to the needy throughout its growing network of healthcare services.
PHOTO CUTLINE: Reach Beyond’s community development director in Shell, Ecuador, Wim de Groen (right) and project coordinator Eric Fogg in the greenhouse growing cacao and orange trees to help provide income for local communities and reach them with a picture of the gospel.