While walking around in a market in Cieneguilla, Peru, I noticed small bags of pecans hanging up for sale.
There, amid many kinds of fruit I couldn’t identify, was a fruit I can walk out of my office and pick up in our church’s parking lot.
We have about a dozen pecan trees on the campus of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Ga. This is the time of the year that the trees are giving up their treasure.
If these trees were on someone’s private property, only the squirrels and the crows would have gleaning rights. However, because the trees belong to the church, everyone in the community feels entitled to the falling pecans.
I’ve seen a Caucasian man park his truck in the parking lot at the same time every morning for several days to pick up pecans.
I’ve watched the children of a Hispanic family on Sunday afternoon kick a soccer ball into the top of the trees to make the pecans fall until the family collected a bag full.
I’ve seen an African-American man collect a pocketful of pecans after attending his GED class.
I’ve watched children dressed for Halloween get down on their hands and knees to find pecans in the grass and put them in their plastic pumpkins during our Halloween festival. Who knew that unshelled pecans could compete with Jolly Ranchers and Reese’s Cups?
I’ve seen members of a poor family scratch through the leaves behind the church annex for pecans after receiving food from our food bank.
The trees offer their fruit here in the same way they offer their shade. They do not discriminate. They have no bias.
They do not care if the person who takes the nuts home is a church member. They do not care what color the person’s skin is or what political party he or she belongs to.
They do not care if the person is rich or poor, young or old. The trees are nonjudgmental. They are just here to serve.
The church is at its best when we are more like these trees, offering the fruits of the Spirit just as freely, expecting nothing in return.
What might the church look like if those outside the church understood that Jesus has his arms stretched out like the branches of these trees, offering His unconditional love to all people?
Or what might the church look like if we cared enough to get down on our hands and knees beside those outside the church, people searching for things of value in life, praying for them and showing them in tangible ways that God is love?
I think that’s what the wonderful people from our food bank did Monday as they gave out food to more than 70 families before Thanksgiving!
Before many of these people will ever find community inside our churches, we are going to have to establish community with them outside the church.
That’s what the pecan trees are telling me. We have to meet people at their point of need. Perhaps it starts with a bag of groceries, but where does it go from there?
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.