October 13, 2010

Lessons From Bamboo

The bright tropical sun rose high in the sky, its sweltering rays announcing the dawn of yet another dry season morning at Chiang Mai Adventist Academy in northern Thailand. Only a few hardy young men had signed up for the summer vacation work program, perhaps because this year’s project was to dig tree stumps from the parched clay soil of the campus cornfields in the oppressive heat.
By the end of the first week the students and I had learned something surprising. The most difficult stumps to dig out weren’t those belonging to sturdy tropical hardwoods—teak, rosewood, or other lesser-known species—that had long ago covered the rolling hills. Their roots furnished clear targets for our axes; after most of them were severed, a simple push to the trunk with a tractor blade was usually enough to crack any that remained. By far the most difficult to cut through were the massive root clumps found where bamboo thickets had once thrived. Not really trees but the world’s fastest-growing grass,1 tropical bamboo sends out horizontal as well as descending roots.2 The resulting mass of intertwined parts anchors a thicket when fierce tropical storm winds blow; it also allows a bamboo grove to share water and nutrients. Linked together, the canes in a bamboo thicket become extremely difficult to uproot,3 and the weakest of woods becomes one of the most resilient residents of the jungle.
2010 1533 page31Each day the long hours of strenuous labor provided lots of time for reflective thought. As we dug and chopped I began to wonder if bamboo clumps may illustrate God’s purpose for His church. As individuals we often more closely resemble frail bamboo canes than sturdy hardwoods. Yet when linked together to pool and share our resources with those in need, a collection of weak individuals may become formidable, indeed, almost indestructible. In the words of Aesop, the Greek slave and fable author (620–560 B.C.): “United we stand, divided we fall.”4
When David was a lonely fugitive pursued by Saul, his brothers and his father’s household joined him in the cave of Adullam (see 1 Sam. 22:1). By showing solidarity with their brother at a time when he was buffeted by the storm winds of Saul’s jealousy, they were literally taking their lives into their hands. But their support and love meant much to David during his hour of need, and his heart sang out:5
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! . . . It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (Ps. 133:1-3).
The slopes of Mount Hermon are the source of the streams that form the river Jordan,6 and its waters bring life and blessing to many. Just as thickly wooded terrain receives more abundant dew and rainfall than deforested zones, so the Lord is able to bestow more bountiful blessings on His people who “press together” in love and concern for others than on those who remain isolated individuals.
“Lord, remind us to plant our roots in You, always making You the foundation of our lives.7 And please germinate more lateral roots from our hearts to bind us closer to our brothers and sisters. Amen.”
1 “Bamboo,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo, accessed online Aug. 31, 2009.
2 Bamboo roots are more accurately referred to as rhizomes.
3 Rebecca Cole, “Let Your Bamboo Garden Grow,” www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3079413, accessed online Aug. 31, 2009.
4www.quotationspage.com/quote/38045.html, accessed online Aug. 31, 2009.
5Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 658.
6Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, rev. ed., Commentary Reference Series, vol. 8, “Hermon,” p. 478.
7Paraphrase of Colossians 2:7, Contemporary English Version © 1995, American Bible Society.
Wayne Hamra serves as vice president for academic administration at Asia-Pacific International University (formerly Mission College) in Thailand. This article was published October 14, 2010.