Mission Zone 3 and 4: A Permaculture Metaphor for Mission, pt 4

​**Can the organic farming practice of Permaculture design serve as a metaphor for mission? In this blog series I am exploring how growing zones, a basic principle of Permaculture that I introduced in part 1, could impact the way we think and practice Christian mission. In part 2 I explored the concept that mission begins in our own homes through healthy self care, personal and family discipleship, and responding to Jesus' mission in our own hearts. In part 3 we looked at the immediate neighborhood and "Parish" that surround the area where you live. Today, we'll look at zones 3 and 4.**

In Permaculture farming, Zone 3 is an area that is visited only occasionally, and sometimes only seasonally. The things you grow here are orchards, large cash crops and pastured animals. Zone 4 is visited even less. It's only partly managed and is an area for wood cutting, wild food gathering and large pastures. Though these zones are managed and tended much less than the others, like all of the zones in Permaculture farming they are critical to the whole operation and contribute to the overall health of the farm.

Jesus modeled what it looks like to engage with these two zones in his life and ministry, and it may not be quite what we have come to assume! As I mentioned before, we tend to think of Jesus as an itinerant healer and evangelist, spending most of his life as a homeless wanderer (Matthew 8:20). But I think he was a lot more rooted than we have come to believe. His mission was certainly bigger than what his zone 1-- the town of Capernaum--could contain (Mark 1:38). It was for the entire nation of Israel, and ultimately the world! But when we think critically about how much time, comparatively, Jesus spent ministering in his region vs his town; and how small of a space this really was, it is pretty striking. I submit that it's pretty compatible to what our Permaculture Metaphor might suggest.

When Jesus did travel (Matt 4:23, Matt 9:35, Luke 8:1, John 7:1) he usually was traveling the region of Galilee, probably not more than 25 or so miles from home. Even when he traveled outside of his near region to places like the region of the Decapolis or through Samaria on his way home from his annual trek to Jerusalem for passover, he still didn't travel far. The truth is, Jesus' whole life and ministry never left this New Jersey sized region!

I'm not very good with geography, but let me hit some bullet points that might help us out a bit.

  • Galilee is about 30 miles at its widest and about 40 miles at its longest. There are parts that are only 25 miles long and 20 miles wide. So, it's an area certainly not bigger than 1,200 square miles, probably more around 800 square miles.

  • For comparison, the Omaha Metro is about 20 miles by 15 miles--about half the distance of the region of Galilee-- giving it a square mileage of about 300. Douglas County is 339 square miles.

  • The image above shows the land area of the nation of Israel in comparison to the United States.

  • Current day Israel is just over 8,000 square miles in area. That's just a little smaller than the state of New Jersey at 8,700.

  • Over the years, the nation of Israel has been as small as 6,600 square miles and about 12,000 square miles at its largest.

  • From top to bottom, Israel is 263 miles. Side to side it ranges from 71 miles to only 9.3 miles wide.

On top of this, everywhere Jesus went he walked! What this means is that, though it took him longer to traverse these miles, he was actually MORE present to those places than we are today as we zoom past in our cars to our destination 50 miles away. With each step Jesus took, he was inhabiting the land and rubbing shoulders with the people. He was listening, discerning, challenging, teaching, comforting, healing, contending, imagining and declaring the Kingdom of God--not to strangers, but to companions who walked these roads with him! Real people. Real places. So, where we might be tempted to say our regions can be larger because we can cover more ground more quickly, I would suggest that we're missing the point. The Permaculture Metaphor teaches us that we cannot live above our places and have a deep, transformative impact. Jesus showed us that this is true to reality. Every time I consider this I am challenged by the fact that when it comes to the regional Zones 3 and 4, we're still sticking pretty close to home.

So, what are a couple of takeaways? How might we begin to live into a healthy appropriation of Zone 3 and 4 as we partner with God's mission in the world?

  1. Allow ourselves to be challenged and corrected. Here's what I've observed over the years as a pastor and missionary: Most churches that have a "local" heart, usually mean they are investing in what the Permaculture metaphor would tell us is Mission Zones 3 and 4. We first need to be thinking about Zones 0-2 before we pat ourselves on the back for making such a great impact in our city!

  2. Rethink how small Zone 3 and 4 actually are and accept that our capacity to partner with God in deep transformation loses impact the wider it gets. I propose that Mission Zone 3 is something in the range of a near region/city/metropolitan area. It's probably an area not much bigger than a 25 mile radius. Mission Zone 4 is a Wider Region with a radius of not more than 150 miles.

  3. Drop our Ego. Let's be honest, if we're willing to take a hard look at ourselves, the reason we think we need a larger influence has more to do with feeling good about ourselves than it does with the Kingdom of God! Glory to who?

  4. Keep it relational. Regional work is still a rooted work. It is based on walking with real people in real places, not idealistic ideas that we impose on our city or region because we want to "reach our city"! Get with friends and co-laborers to walk their neighborhood. Pray and minister with them. When Jesus sent out his disciples into all the towns and villages their most important instruction was to find a Person of Peace (someone who would receive them) and then to stay with them!

As you consider how Jesus engaged with Mission Zone 3 and 4, what is stirring in your heart?

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