Twenty-three years ago, Cheryl Erickson took on the task of growing pumpkins as an experiment in specialty crops for her farm. Little did she know that the experiment would turn into 25 churches and even a devotional book about her unique path to becoming a missionary.
The story begins in 2000, when Erickson and her husband Dwight dedicated a portion of their North Dakota, United States, farm to experimentation with specialty crops. Their farm was going through a rough patch, and the hope was to find a crop that could produce a stronger profit. After researching lavender, various herbs, and alfalfa, Erickson settled on pumpkins.
That first year, Erickson planted an acre (0.4 hectare) of pumpkins, “which amounted to 400 hills with five seeds per hill.” The job was labor intensive, and she worked hard to cultivate the squash. At harvest time, she sold 1,100 beautiful pumpkins to the local grocery store.
Her experiment was a success, but the labor was too intense to turn it into a full-time endeavor for the farm. Rather than give up on the crop altogether, her husband suggested that she turn the project into a ministry to raise money for missions. When a local pastor suggested that she give the profits to build Maranatha Volunteers International churches in India, an idea was born.
The next spring, Erickson planted another crop of pumpkins. And that fall, she harvested 5,000 pumpkins! From then on, despite harsh frost or dry weather conditions, she turned out a prolific crop year after year. She considered them a direct blessing from God because whether there was water to grow them or not, they turned out in absolute abundance.
“I had everything go wrong in my pumpkin patch,” Erickson says. “Some years it was so wet, I couldn’t even drive in the field. Other years the drought was so bad that all I could see was withered plants. One year the plants had barely come up when the whole field froze. Miraculously, they all came back from the roots. Every time I had a crisis, He was there to solve the problem.”
And with that, she earned her reputation as “The Pumpkin Lady.”
Over the next 21 years, Erickson earned nearly US$200,000. The pumpkin funds helped to build 22 churches in India, 2 churches in Tanzania, and 1 church in Nicaragua. She even went on a mission trip to India to visit one of the churches the pumpkins had sponsored and to help with an evangelism effort.
She was touched and amazed by the people and how some of them had never heard the name Jesus before. By the end of the project, hundreds, if not thousands, were baptized.
“I think it was the most spiritually enriching experience in my life. I’ll never be the same,” Erickson says of the experience.
In 2020, circumstances forced Erickson to plant her last crop of pumpkins. There would be no more back-breaking work. No more battling pests, frost, and droughts. No more long days of hauling pumpkins from store to store. But there was one thing she was determined to keep doing.
“I wanted to keep earning money to build churches in India, so I decided to try writing a book about the miracles God performed and the lessons I learned during those 21 years,” she says.
In 2022, Erickson published Missionary Pumpkins: Miracle Stories from God’s Pumpkin Patch. Written as a devotional — 31 short chapters for 31 days in October — the book describes the many trials and tribulations of growing and selling pumpkins — an endeavor that required her to wholly place her trust in God every step of the way.
The proceeds from the sale of the book will go toward funding Maranatha projects. Once again, Erickson is using pumpkins to share the Gospel message around the world.
“You don’t have to go across the seas to be a missionary,” she says. “God says to use what is in your hand. Take what is in your hand and make a difference!”
Since publishing her book, Erickson has received messages from readers of how her miracle stories made them feel blessed. She has also received donations to support her outreach. She finds great joy in sharing the miracles of God and the lessons learned from a one-acre patch of land.
“I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I wanted to share with others what a personal God is really like, and I wanted to see these people in heaven,” she says of why she wrote the book.
“I just want to point people to God, even as a little light.”
The original version of this story was posted on Maranatha’s Volunteer magazine.