Sunday, August 2, 2009

An open letter about chickens to the Vacation Church School children in Bakersfield, CA

From your missionary in Cambodia, Katherine.

To the children, youth and adults of the church in Bakersfield that gather this week for Vacation Church School: Grace to you and peace.

“I always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in my prayers, constantly remembering before our God your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For I know, brothers and sisters, beloved by God, that God has chosen you… And you have become imitators of Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 6a NRSV)

I hear that you are learning about Caring for God’s Creatures this year. In Genesis we learn that God wants us to care for God’s creatures in the same way that God cares for us. And so, I write to you again this year in the style of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians to remind you of the words from Isaiah that “The Lord is the everlasting God; God created all the world. God never grows tired or weary.” (Isaiah 40:28b NRSV)

Here in Cambodia, we raise a lot of different animals, such as fish, frogs, crickets, cows, water buffalo, pigs, ducks and chickens. Raising chickens is an important part of family life. Every family wants to be able to have a few chickens, even in the city.

One of the hardest parts of raising chickens is getting enough food for them to eat because all animals that are raised by families need to be fed by the family. This is how we take part in caring for God’s creatures. If you have a pet dog or cat or fish you need to feed it every day; the same is true for chickens. Chickens in particular love to eat vegetable scraps. What happens when you don’t eat all of your dinner? In Cambodia, the chickens get to eat all of the left over vegetables; they help to keep the farm clean. The left-over rice is dried in the sun and the chickens get to eat this too. Chickens also love bugs. They are particularly fond of termites and worms. A lot of families have a termite mound at their house, which is good for feeding both the chickens and the fish.

Last week, I went to visit the Minister of Agriculture in one province. He was very happy to meet me and to hear about the good work that our churches are doing. He encouraged me to support more families to raise chickens. It is a very good way for the church to help the poorest people in the community. Raising chickens is not too hard and it can give a family a good sense of accomplishment. The United Methodist Church, through the CHAD program is helping families to raise chicken in three ways.

First, we provide gift-loans to community groups so that they can start raising chickens. A group of about five families starts working together, and each family receives about 5 chickens. When the first flock of baby chicks grow to about bantee size, they are given to a new family. In this way, the gift of chickens from the church is passed on from family to family until everyone in the village has a small flock of chickens. Chickens get sick very easily, and this can kill off an entire village of chickens, so this is an important way for the church to help a village rebuild after a natural disease epidemic. The initial gift is not very big, just a few chickens for a few families, but because people share with their neighbor, everyone can benefit.

Another activity of the church is to start savings and credit groups. Every week, members of the savings group contribute a small amount to their savings account. Families can then take a small loan from the savings union to help them expand their farm. Many families will take a small loan of $25 for 3 months to help them buy chicken feed from the store so they can produce chickens to sell. When the family pays back the loan, the interest stays in the community, thus increasing the communities’ wealth.

The third way the church helps is to provide technical assistance about how to better raise chickens. Through our partner organizations we can share information about proper housing for chickens and improved feed such as worms. Chickens are not very smart creatures; they need the help of families, especially the children, to go in and out. In the morning, it is the responsibility of the children to shoo the chickens outside where they can hunt for bugs and vegetables. Then at night, the children need to gather the chickens back to their safe house again so they don’t catch cold or get stolen. With research from our partner CelAgric (which is funded in part by Heifer International), the church in Cambodia has distributed information about how to build better chicken houses. We have also provided information about what vegetables are best for improving chicken health. During my meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, he encouraged me to start teaching more about worm farming so that families would know how to raise worms, which can also improve the diet and health of chickens. We hope to start a pilot project about this in Methodist Amen Church in Kampong Chhnang province soon.

Learning about Caring for God’s Creatures is an important activity for the children in the church here in Cambodia and I am glad that you are also interested in learning these same lessons. We can sing praises for God’s care of creatures by saying: “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, and bring forth food from the earth” (Psalm 104:14). We are all made in the image of God and called to continue taking care of God’s creatures. Thank you for your care. Beloved in Christ, pray for us in Cambodia as we continue to keep you in prayer as well and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

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