By David Brandt Berg
Back in 1913, a man about 20 years of age took a walking tour in the rural province of Provence, in southern France. Provence was a rather barren and desolate area at the time, as it had been almost totally denuded of trees due to overcutting and too-intensive agriculture. The soil had then been washed away by the rains, as there were no trees to hold it in place. The whole region had become barren and dry.
Little farming was being done now because of its poor condition. The villages were old and run down, and most of the villagers had deserted the countryside. Even the wildlife had fled, as without trees the protective undergrowth had thinned, food was scarce, and few streams remained.
The hiker stopped one night at the humble cottage of a shepherd, who, although gray-haired and in his mid-fifties, was still very stalwart. The young man spent the night there, enjoying the shepherd’s hospitality, and ended up staying several days with him.
The visitor observed with some curiosity that the shepherd spent his evening hours sorting nuts by lamplight—acorns, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and others. He very carefully examined them and culled out the bad ones, and when he finished his evening’s work, he put the good nuts in a knapsack.
Then, as he led his sheep to graze the next day, he would plant the nuts along the way. While his sheep were pasturing in one area, the shepherd would take his staff, walk several paces, and then thrust the end of the staff into the ground, making a small hole. He would then drop in one of his nuts and use his foot to cover it over with earth. Then he would walk several paces more, push his staff into the dry ground, and drop in another nut. He spent all his daylight hours walking over this region of Provence as he grazed his sheep, each day covering a different area where there were few trees, planting nuts.
Watching this, the young man wondered what in the world this shepherd was trying to do, and he finally asked him.
“I’m planting trees,” the shepherd replied.
“Yes,” the shepherd replied, “But some day they’ll do somebody some good, and they’ll help to restore this dry land. I may never see it, but perhaps my children will.”
The young man marveled at the shepherd’s foresight and unselfishness—that he was willing to prepare the land for future generations, even though he might never see the results or reap the benefits himself.
Twenty years later, when in his forties, the hiker once again visited this area and was astounded at what he saw. One great valley was completely covered with a beautiful natural forest of all kinds of trees. They were young trees, of course, but trees nevertheless. Life had sprung forth all over the valley! The grass had grown much greener, shrubbery and wildlife had returned, the soil was moist again, and farmers were again cultivating their crops.
He wondered what had happened to the old shepherd, and to his amazement found that he was still alive, hale and hearty, still living in his little cottage—and still sorting his nuts each evening.
The visitor then learned that a delegation from the French Parliament had come down from Paris recently to see this new forest of trees, which to them looked like a miraculous new natural forest. They learned that it had, over the years, been planted by this one shepherd, who day by day as he was watching his sheep, diligently planted nuts. The delegation was so impressed and grateful to this shepherd for having reforested this entire area single-handedly that they persuaded Parliament to give him a special pension.
The visitor said he was amazed at the change, not only in the beautiful trees, but also in the revived agriculture, the renewed wildlife, and the beautiful lush grass and shrubbery. The little farms were thriving, and the villages seemed to have come to life again. What a contrast from when he had visited there 20 years before, when the villages had been run down and abandoned!
Now all was thriving, just because of one man’s foresight, one man’s diligence, one man’s patience, one man’s sacrifice, one man’s faithfulness just to do what one man could do, day by day, day in and day out for a number of years.
So if you’re sometimes discouraged with the world the way it is, don’t give up! We read that great empires and governments, armies, and wars change the course of history and the face of the earth, so sometimes we’re discouraged and think, Who am I? What can I do? It all seems so hopeless and impossible! It looks like there’s nothing that one person can do to change things for the better, so what’s the use of trying?
But as proven by this humble shepherd, over a period of years one man can change the world! You may not be able to change the whole world, but you can change your part of the world. You can start with your own heart, your own mind, your own spirit, your own life, through receiving Jesus into your life and reading His Word and putting its principles into practice in your life. Change your life, your home, your family, and you’ve changed a whole world—your world!
Then you and your little family can start trying to change your neighbors and friends and the people you come in contact with from day to day. You can make a special effort to reach lonely, hungry, needy hearts who are seeking love, seeking truth, seeking they know not what, but seeking happiness—desperately seeking to satisfy their yearning hearts that are empty and barren and desolate for lack of the water of the Word and the warm sunshine of God’s love.
You can start individually, personally, just you or your little family, planting seeds, one by one, in heart after heart, day by day, by doing loving deeds for others and telling them about Jesus. You could also give or recommend Christian materials to those you meet, to help them understand God’s Word. Patiently plant the seeds of the truth into that empty hole of an empty heart, and trust the great, warm, loving sunshine of His love and the water of His Word to bring forth the miracle of new life.
It may seem only a tiny little bud at first, just a little sprig, just one insignificant little green shoot. What is that to the forest that’s needed? Well, it’s a beginning. It’s the beginning of the miracle of new life, and it will thrive and grow and flourish and become great and strong, a whole new “tree,” a whole new life, and maybe a whole new world! So why not try it?
If you’re faithful to plant seeds of God’s truth, like the old shepherd that the government rewarded for his efforts, God is going to reward you one of these days when you finally come to your reward! He’s going to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matthew 25:21)
You can change the world! Start today! Change your own life, change your family, change your home, change your neighbors, change your town, change your country. Change the world!