During our first term on the field we were very excited when the very first banana plant we had planted in our yard bore fruit. This event may seem insignificant to you, but because we are a helicopter location and have to bring many of our supplies into the bush, it was an event of much rejoicing. Those first fruits reminded me of a short article I read not long ago in a book on Anthropology and Missions (you knew I’d get books in here somehow, right?)
This particular article was noting the differences between banyan trees and banana plants. (Bananas really aren’t trees, but annual plants that produce fruit once and then die. You will see that this becomes important in a minute.) Anyway, I don’t know how many of you have ever seen a banyan tree in real life, but they can be very impressive. We have them here in PNG and they can cover a large area of ground, but apparently in South Asia where the author had worked for many years, a single tree and its secondary trunks can cover an acre or more of ground. It is a great shade tree for man and beast, but nothing grows in its shade. When the tree dies, it leaves a barren patch of death behind.
However, the banana plant is different. After about six months of growth, the first new shoots begin to appear around the mother stalk. These steadily appear for the next six to twelve months when the parent plant bears a stalk of bananas. These bananas provide food for man, beast, bird, and bat. Then, the parent stalk dies, never producing any more leaves or fruit. However, the stalks that have sprung up around the parent are well on their way to producing their own shoots, and then eventually fruit. Banana stalk clusters that are several years old can have a dozen or more plants growing up in various stages of development. (For you gardeners out there, this is NOT recommended, it is recommended that you pay closer attention to your bananas and only allow one or maybe two replacement stalks to be growing up an any one time!)
All this is interesting perhaps from a horticulturist point of view, but what does it have to do with us? Glad you asked! Actually, it is a fantastic illustration of what our long term life-investing ministries should be like. If our ministries are like a banyan tree, while we are on the scene they may look impressive and even help out many people. However, once we are gone, there will be a gapping hole left where we and our ministry once stood. On the other hand, if we pattern our ministry after the banana plant and raise up those shoots who will come after us, once we bear fruit and are no longer on the scene, the ministry God has started through us will continue on – Lord willing until His return.
What makes the difference between a ministry which looks like a gaping hole and a ministry which continues on in spite of our absence? Discipleship.
How can we say that? Today ministry we are in, of assisting the Mouk to reach another people group, is bearing the fruit of another missionary’s discipleship. That missionary, Mark Zook, is now rejoicing in Heaven with the believers who have passed on before. So there is an empty space where he once was, but it is not barren. The people he discipled are still carrying on, still discipling others, still raising up new leaders, still reaching out to the next generation, and reaching out to unrelated people groups. In many ways the Mouk people are like those banana plants; they are continuing to spread out and bear fruit.
So every time as we eat bananas let us be reminded of what our life in Christ is to be like – the banana plants that grow in ever increasing circles, and the tasty fruit that they bear.