Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bird Sanctuary

"The bird also has found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even Thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God." (Psalm 84:3)

I can imagine the psalmist worshiping God in the Temple in Jerusalem, his gaze rising up to the swallows flying overhead, busy with their nests and young. Here in the eastern Mediterranean, swallows come in droves in the spring and nest anywhere possible. Any building, wall, or niche can be the dwelling place of these diligent birds. I've seen their nests on the high walls of the airport terminal in Larnaca, and on the rafters of the little shack at the horse riding stables. In and out they fly, carrying food to their little ones who wait with open beaks, sounding out their impatient hunger with the beginnings of bird songs. Those many millenia ago, the psalmist was in the Temple contemplating the swallows of old, making their mud homes on the walls, flying above the altar in the house of God.

He does not mention any swallow eradication program for the Temple; apparently they were acceptable inhabitants of the holy place. Their presence in the Temple did not in any way interrupt the service of sacrifice and worship of the God who made the heavens and the earth. The psalmist enjoys their company and compares himself to the swallows, "How blessed are those who dwell in Thy house! They are ever praising Thee. Selah." (Psalm 84:4) We dwell in His house as the birds dwell in His house, accepted and appreciated for what we are - God's creation, His redeemed ones, those who offer the sacrifice of praise and simply enjoy His presence.

Today in the south of Israel, on the edge of the Red Sea and the Negev desert, there is a bird sanctuary called the International Birding and Research Center. Israel is the only land bridge between Africa and the continents of Europe and Asia. The birds that nest and breed in the northern regions of the earth migrate south to the feeding grounds of Africa, passing through Israel twice a year going and coming. It is estimated that 1.5 billion birds of 430 species fly through Eilat twice a year. 

Situated on the edge of what is left of an old salt marsh, the only remaining habitat for the birds is 5% of the land area that once was available to them. The rest of the salt marsh consists of development, hotels, suburbs of the tourist haven Eilat has become. When we consider the future, including the return of the Lord, how will areas like Eilat be transformed by the redeeming plan of God? Perhaps when God is finished judging the god of mammon, the earth will once again revert to its original purpose, the appropriate and adequate dwelling for man and beast. 

We are stewards of God's creation (Genesis 1:26, 28). We have been given dominion over the fish, the birds and the animals on dry ground. Like the birds in the Temple, the birds that pass through our lands and lots deserve a little more thought and consideration. I am not just talking about feeding birds in the winter, I am talking about considering how God takes care of all things, even us. "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?" (Matthew 6:26)

Dwelling in His house, close to His altars, is the place from which we can gain perspective on the tumultuous times in which we live. God takes care of the birds, He will take care of us. As stewards of His creation, we can take part in making our part of the earth a better place for ourselves, our children, and the animals God has entrusted to us. It is not a matter of money as much as it is a matter of will. As we gaze upon the swallows making their nests and taking care of their young, may we understand our place in God's creation and fulfill the original purpose of God for man -- for fellowship and for tending the garden of God. 

Aimee Hennen

Friday, January 30, 2009


Trees are earthbound witnesses. They wear the scars of every storm, every fire, every drought, and every year of abundant rain. They also humbly wear the scars of men and animals as if they were trophies of grace.

Trees declare the warmth of every sunny day and the cold of every snow-swept winter. They display the colors of change for everyone to see, and herald, sometimes with bright flowers, the coming new life of spring.

They are silent witnesses, not casting judgment, but unafraid to declare what they cannot deny. Their roots are familiar with ancient things. Their limbs and leaves ring with the laughs of children, the kisses of lovers, and with the sobs of old men.

Though they never raise in protest a voice that men can hear, when cut down, they continue to witness faithfully and loudly both to the skill and to the finiteness of mankind.

We sit on them, write on them, sleep on them, put volumes of our knowledge on them, and seek shelter under them. Trees are without prejudice, friends to every man. There is not one of them that will raise itself in war against him or against his neighbor.

When burned, they testify to the warmth of their Maker. When formed and fashioned by the hands of men, they testify with a sweet fragrance to God's strength and beauty. By their fruit the savor of God's love for mankind is unmistakable. When barren, the earth beside them mourns.

If you see a tree as a witness of God's glory whose voice can reach beyond your own generation, or even beyond that of your children's children, you will not hasten to cut it down except in the most dire or noble of pursuits.

Trees, planted to declare the glory of heaven to men, are earthbound witnesses of our compassion, of our faith, of our steadfastness, and also of our cruelty. Perhaps that is why God chose to display His love on a tree, so that we would never forget the beauty of His steadfast love or our desperate need for His redemption.

Michael Hennen

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Other Economy

I know everyone is worried about the economy. It is definitely on the ropes, and there is cause for concern. I have to say, though, that there is another economy that concerns me more deeply. The one we hear about every day that is sputtering and failing is the legal economy. What gets me is the illegal economy.

To what am I referring? Well, as missionaries, we have lived on 4 continents and visited others. Since we are ministers, we have met and ministered to the needy in all these societies. There is a hidden economy, the economy of misery, that pervades this world. I think some people gleefully watch the failing economies of the world, as if they are getting their come-uppance, but if the legal ones fail, I hate to think of the illegal ones taking over.

There is the hidden economy of drug trafficking. Rebels and terrorists worldwide fund their evil deeds with the money made on heroin and cocaine. There is the hidden economy of the sex trade. Children in Thailand and women all over the world are trapped in this dark underworld of mafia and prostitution. There is the hidden economy of weapons dealing. Secret pacts and hidden agendas which are publicly refuted, are very real and very much taking place in many places of the globe. There is the hidden economy of poaching. Animals and plants are at risk in many parts of the world from the unscrupulous business of selling animal parts and skins, and taking plants out of their environment to sell to the uninformed peoples of the world. There is the hidden economy of exploitation. In many places, people work for wages that are so low it makes them virtual slaves in the sweat shops of designer products. And there is the economy of slavery, still very much alive in Sudan, Turkmenistan, and other places. What is hidden is much worse than just the greed we see on Wall Street.

Our attention is turning to local economy. Here we find accountability, and we are able to take care of our neighbors so that no one is hungry or without shelter. We are longing for community, in which neighborliness abounds, the caring for one another like brothers and sisters in the Lord. The world's economies, both legal and illegal, will be judged by the Lord. In the midst of judgment, may we wake up to the opportunity to establish a glimpse of heaven here on earth, taking care of one another in the love of the Lord. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Little Background

Our agrarian roots go way back. My parents were both raised in the farming community of Dutchtown, Louisiana. Although after World War II they headed to the oil fields of Venezuela to work, they nevertheless always had a little garden in every place we lived. Mom loved okra for her gumbo, and Dad enjoyed nice juicy homegrown tomatoes.

MIchael's father was raised on a farm in MInnesota. After World War II he studied Mechanical Engineering and Economics in college. He and his bride settled in Ottumwa, Iowa, to pursue a career with John Deere, working to improve tractors. Always in their back yard a little garden grew, and behind their lot there was a 7 acre cow pasture, home to many adventures for the little cowboys and Indians they raised.

Growing up, I always had an interest in the great outdoors. At first I was drawn to oceanography and marine biology, since we lived on the beach of the Caribbean Sea while my father was refinery manager in Costa Rica. The beautiful tropical foliage, the wonderful and colorful bird life in the trees, and even the little land crabs that migrated once a year across the landscape, all fascinated me. In our side yard someone had planted a hibiscus bush and then grafted in many different kinds and colors of hibiscus flowers. 

After moving back to the States, I finished high school one month after my sixteenth birthday and in the fall of that year I enrolled in LSU. My major? General Agriculture. The counselors all advised me to go into agribusiness, but my feeling was that I wanted to grow things and have a cow, not get involved in the big corporations or the competitive world of agribusiness. 

My fellow classmates seemed to all have farm backgrounds, so I was at a disadvantage. For example, for one class we went to a barn to judge sheep. They brought out four sheep and we were supposed to classify them from best to worst. This was my first close up look at a sheep. I had no idea what to look for. So I guessed at my answers. I was wrong.

My Dairy Science class was all about how to run a dairy and artificially inseminate cows. ONe of my fellow students, a Vietnam veteran, was feeling the same uneasiness I was feeling. When would they begin to teach about cows and how to take care of them?

After a year at LSU, I transferred to NLU, a little college in northeast Louisiana, and I changed my major to Horticulture. Here I got to spend time in a green house, and we went out to collect soil samples in the forest, then brought them back to the lab to analyze them. I didn't finish my degree, but I did continue to have an interest in growing plants.

After returning to Venezuela as a missionary in 1988, I met my husband Michael and we began a joyful partnership for life. One of the first things we did in our mountain home in the Andes was to plant a garden. Michael dug the whole thing by hand and then we planted strawberries and a few vegetables. He bent the shovel on the hard ground! We bought chicks, reasoning that a little food production would help the Lord out with our missionary support. Well, the neighbors (an extremely poor family) stole our strawberry plants. One morning our chicks, that were supposed to be all hens, began to crow at daybreak. We gave them to the extremely poor family down the road.

In Russia we didn't have any land to plant on, since we lived in the collective apartment housing of the city of Togliatti for six years. But we thoroughly enjoyed every visit to the small Russian villages in the summer, to eat and drink with our church members and other friends, and enjoy the beautiful Russian countryside. I have to say that if Russia could ever straighten itself out after centuries of the feudal system, bad government, and crazy politics, homesteading in Russia could be a good thing.

In Kazakhstan where we ministered for three years, we again did not have any land to plant on, but we did take advantage of the fresh vegetable markets all around the city of Almaty. Amazing produce, sold by the farmers of the villages surrounding the city, graced our table at every meal. "Sister, buy my apples!" a local Muslim in the market would yell at me. Herbs and spices, the colors of the vegetables, the smells of roasting chicken kabobs, made every trip to the market an enjoyable experience. It was just hard to lug home the bulging mesh bags filled with all the goodies.

Here in Cyprus, we moved to the mountains to be with our Messianic Jewish friends who have a discipleship school and community. They bought 4 and a half acres nearby, so guess who helped set up the garden? That's right! We did. 

In the fall of 2008, we purchased 26 acres in northern MIssouri. This will be our future homestead, Lord willing. Meanwhile, we continue to appreciate God's good earth, and the gifts He gives us through other members of His Body, and the celebration of the Feasts of the Lord together. This agrarian life is good.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rediscovering Lost Knowledge

In the last 150 years, our country has experienced an extraordinary loss of knowledge. While we think these days that we are far ahead of our predecessors in scientific and technological information, the fact is that when it comes to taking care of ourselves we have become as dependent as newborn babes are for their diaper change.

As part of our homeschooling last year, I read a book with my daughter called "Diary of an Early American Boy". It is about a 15 year old young man named Noah Blake and it chronicles his life in the year 1805. Here is a young person who knew how to build a house and a barn, plow a field, build a bridge, construct a mill with a pond, clear the forest, and that was just to set up the homestead! He knew about moon phases, how to grow food for his family, and how to make nails at a forge. This appears to have been common knowledge among farmers and settlers in the past. 

Then we also read the delightful story by Laura Ingalls Wilder called "Farmer Boy". Although I think she rolled all of Almanzo's life on the farm experiences into one book covering one year of his youth, it is still an amazing picture of know-how and industriousness that makes our present-day young people look pretty useless.

We have lost so much knowledge that I wonder if we can recover it in this generation. I am thankful for the books that are available about the many aspects of gardening and farm life, but it would be great to have more practitioners in the flesh nearby who could show the way.

Years ago I lived in the country on 8 acres. My neighbors were an elderly couple who had cleared the land I then lived on. The pear tree she had planted 50 years before was still bearing fruit in my yard. I would go visit her regularly and watch everything she did. If she was digging in her garden, I would pay close attention and try to copy her activities in my own garden. She probably had forgotten more than I would ever know about raising food on that plot of land in Louisiana. I learned so much from her.

I am now passing on my knowledge to my daughter. We garden together, we learn about being productive together. The next generation needs to know how to be producers and not consumers. It is satisfying to be able to grow your own food and make your own clothes. The knowledge of past generations is our national heritage. Let's rediscover the many treasures of know-how and common sense living that have been handed down to us, and let's leave this heritage to our children. 

Saturday, January 3, 2009


This is the first Shabbat of this New Year. As we lit the candles at sunset, we thanked the Lord for this new beginning, for the understanding that Yeshua is the Messiah, for the message inherent in the Scriptures and symbolized by the lighting of the two Shabbat candles: God is the Creator and He is our Redeemer. The rabbis say that the candles of Shabbat are a testimony about God's two great acts: creation and redemption.

Yeshua is the light of the world. May HIs light shine in every heart and every home this year.