The Planting of the Lord:

Training Up New Branches of The Lulu Tree

By Jeanne Damoff

A tree is a living thing. It can be trained to take a certain shape through careful, wise pruning, but its Creator makes it thrive. And He alone fully knows the plans He has — the height it will achieve, the fruit it will bear, and the ultimate breadth of its canopy.

The Lulu Tree was first planted in a slum called Katwe, in the city of Kampala, Uganda. It began as a fragile and vulnerable seedling, and — in the wisdom of the One who always knows and does what’s best — it was battered by some pretty serious storms in its earliest days. Storms that stripped away twisted, errant branches and made the roots reach deep into the soil of God’s Word.

At times we thought the storms might destroy the tree completely, but a wise Gardener was pruning for fruit, and as the roots went deep through humble dependence on Him, the trunk grew strong, and branches began to grow.

From the slums of Kampala, branches spread to the villages of Uganda, where fruit began to multiply: mama kits outreaches, a School of Hope for teen moms, micro-loan programs, prayer clinics, training for pastors, and ministry to children. We would have been content to pour all our efforts into watering and fertilizing these beautiful branches, but God had other plans.

A daughter tree sprung up in Sierra Leone, and the branches there bore some new and unique fruit: rescued orphans, church plants, microloans, a birthing clinic, community gardens, and an FGM rescue program.  With every new expansion and branch, we wondered how we would manage to maintain and provide for this flourishing tree. It felt like too much for a small team of volunteers to shoulder, until we remembered that we aren’t the Source. We aren’t the owners. We aren’t even the primary gardeners.

This tree belongs to God, and we’ve been invited to tend it and care for it, but we never had control and we never will. God isn’t concerned about what we can handle. He is handling it, and He has no limits. He is not only raising up the tree, He is raising up local caretakers to water, fertilize, and see the branches expand even further.

And that’s exactly what’s happening. Our leadership team in Uganda has taken responsibility for a South Sudan sprout, ministering to refugees in camps along the border of Uganda, with hopes of seeing the comforting shade of this tree stretch over the border into the weary, war-torn country of South Sudan. God has raised up Pastor Santos, a South Sudanese man living in the camps, to partner with The Lulu Tree in strengthening families through the local church — equipping pastors to equip families, that the hope of the gospel would flow like life-giving sap, stirring traumatized communities toward flourishing in spirit, mind, body, and soul. Already we’ve seen these resilient refugees establish a system to use microloans not only for personal provision, but to care for others in their community through a special fund set aside out of their earnings.

Our national director in Sierra Leone, Pastor Sonnel, is training Pastor David of Liberia to nurture a branch in his wounded country, where 83% of the people live below the international poverty line. The government is corrupt at every level, and the country has one of the highest incidences of sexual violence against women in the world. All of these challenges are merely symptoms of spiritual darkness and oppression, but God has his servants in this place, and He is sending shoots of hope and healing — to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3)

The Lulu Tree looks different in each new place, pruned with purpose by the Lord to serve the specific needs of specific people. We no longer tell God we can’t handle the expansion. Who are we to stand in His way? We simply ask for the wisdom, grace, and humility to hear His heart and follow it. Then we stand by and watch with amazement and wonder as the trunk grows strong, the branches spread, and many find hope and healing under the shade of God’s beautiful tree.

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