Monday, October 27, 2008

Of Peace and Pecans

Pearl Harbor had been attacked and America was rushing off to fight the Enemy overseas. Somehow, in the shadow of this historic military escalation, the Jordans and Englands decided it was more important to fight the Evils of racism, militarism, and economic exploitation in their own backyard. Instead of guns and bombs, they were armed with a radical faith in the teachings of Jesus as described in the Sermon on the Mount. This faith led them to create a “Demonstration plot of the Kingdom of God” in South Georgia, which they named Koinonia Farm (Koinonia is the Greek word for community as used in Acts 2:42) in November 1942.

From the beginning, Koinonia was challenged by their neighbors for their views on racial equality and pacifism. Initially, thanks to Clarence Jordan’s quick wit and successful agricultural innovations, Koinonians were largely dismissed as crazy but harmless. This amused tolerance quickly exploded into violent hatred when the federal government outlawed the system of racial segregation that permeated Southern life. From 1955 to the early 1960s the Koinonia was the victim of bombings, drive-by shootings, beatings and vandalism. When the attacks proved ineffective, an economic boycott was imposed against Koinonia in 1956. This boycott was enforced by the KKK and they demonstrated their seriousness by bombing a local store that had sold to Koinonia.

Where the threats and violence had failed, the economic boycotts nearly succeeded in ending the Koinonia experiment. In this dark time, Clarence was inspired to create a mail order business - with the slogan “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia” -that sold pecans to friends of Koinionia in the Northern states. This mail order business, based on pecans and related products, became the economic lifeblood that sustained Koinonia until the violence subsided and the boycott ended shortly after the passage of the civil rights act in 1964. While Koinonia had survived, the violence and boycotts had taken their toll. By the late 1960s, only the Jordan and Whittkamper families remained on the farm, Clarence had grown tired and restless, feeling that God could better use his talents elsewhere. Serious plans were made to sell the farm and move to Atlanta.

Once again, fate - or God - intervened and the Millard and Linda Fuller family made an unexpected visit to Koinonia. The Fullers had realized the American dream by becoming millionaires in their early 30s. Realizing that their material success had resulted in empty lives and a failing marriage, they had recently sold everything and given the money away in a radical commitment to Christ. By 1968, the collaboration of the Jordan and Fuller families led to the start of a new project at Koinonia called the “Fund for Humanity” - later named “Habitat for Humanity”.

Clarence Jordan died suddenly in October 1969, at the age of 57. After Clarence’s death, Millard recalled a recent Christmas dinner at Koinonia. Clarence had unexpectedly disappeared from the festivities in the middle of a cold and rainy day. Millard and one of the visitors went outside and found him planting pecan trees in the orchard. The visitor asked Clarence what he was doing - after all, he would never live to see those trees bear fruit.

Clarence replied that he was planting the trees for those who would come after him.

No comments: