Timothy Bannister's Blog

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Happy New Year!!!!

Here we are at the end of 2015. We have had a terrific Christmas, with all of our kids, partners, and a grandson, together. Who knows when that’s going to happen again? So we celebrated and visited and hiked and sang and ate!

As I write this, Diane and I are THAT close (my thumb and finger measure a small space in the air!) to being fully supported and on our way to Tanzania. Friends and family have been extremely generous, and we are within $700 per month of being on our way. We had hoped to be in Tanzania sometime in January, and that’s still a strong possibility, but we need your help!

This morning, I followed my normal routine. I generally arise at about 5:30 (the alarm goes off at 5:20, but sometimes I treat myself to an extra few minutes!). I went out to the lounge, stoked the fire in the wood heater, switched on the coffee pot, checked the headlines, and settled down with a fresh cup of coffee for my devotions. It’s precious time. It gives me time to get my brain clear, find out what’s going on in the world, and grow my relationship with God. In Africa, our verandah is our main living space, so the coffee and quiet times occur outdoors, where we can listen to the dawn chorus of birds and cattle.

After my devotions I checked the news sites again, and discovered that The New Yorker, CNN, Fox, CBC, CTV and BBC all had news about El Nino. If you follow any of these sites, you’ll know climatologists are using terms like “the Godzilla of El Ninos.” It’s likely to be the worst in known history and it’s going to stretch well into 2016. From BBC: “”Millions of people in places like Ethiopia, Haiti and Papua New Guinea are already feeling the effects of drought and crop failure,” said Jane Cocking, from Oxfam.” (http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35159826) That means a very wet time for much of the southeast US, and, paradoxically, a very dry, hungry time in southern Africa. Food shortages there are expected to peak in the early parts of 2016, but in my experience, the true hungry months in East Africa tend to be in April and May (even at the best of times), before the April rains have provided any harvest.

CNN has a cheery video lady, dressed like a motivational speaker speaking to less-motivated motivational speakers, explaining how El Nino is likely to affect California. She discusses the world-wide consequences, and ends her video by asking the all-important question: “We all know that El Nino will impact the world. The only question is, how will it affect you?” REALLY? That’s the burning question? Jesus prompted a legal expert to ask the real all-important question, “Who is my neighbour?” And Jesus answered by telling the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25 – 37).

Conservation agriculture (CA), with its reverence for water, soil, and resources, has a proven track record of growing abundant yields on very little water. We advocate a CA method called Farming God’s Way, not because it’s all laid out in Scripture, but because it emphasizes biblical principles of respect for the land and the good gifts God has given us. I have stood in FGW and seen the most amazing harvests of corn. I have also looked into adjacent fields, cultivated using traditional methods, and seen only dry, immature stalks of dead corn. This is a sight I’ve seen over and over in my career. We know FGW can make a difference.

We are extremely anxious to get to Tanzania, to work at STEMM Children’s Village (www.stemm.org). We KNOW that God can grow food even in times of little rainfall. We KNOW that God can change the situation for the other children of Mbuguni though the teaching  about FGW. We KNOW that this can happen and we feel God wants us as part of this plan.

Many of you who have promised support and have not yet done the paperwork. Over a hundred people responded to our plan for a recording of The Princess Bride, and we wait anxiously for your pledge. Some of you have considered supporting us, but are reluctant to make a monthly commitment. But that’s what we need. We need you to ask yourself, “Who is my neighbour?” We need you to go on the mission website (http://missiongo.org/donate/missionaries/tim-and-diane-bannister) and make your pledge. Please help us get to Tanzania in time to train staff and neighbours how to prepare the land for the April rains. Please help Diane develop programs to improve the health of the community around STEMM, and to enhance the overall operation at STEMM. Pray for us regularly. Forward this blog to friends you know. Share it on you FB page or on the social media of your choice.

And, as always, God’s blessings to each of you, in the new year, and always.

Tim and Diane


Farming the Plains, Eyeing Kilimanjaro

Many of you know that we have been privileged to live in Kenya, more or less since 1987. What started as a 3-year commitment at Rift Valley Academy has turned into a varied (and variable) adventure of a lifetime! We have loved every task we’ve been given, from dorm parenting to teaching to nursing to large-scale farming. Farming?

Yes, farming. On January 2nd, we arrived back in Kenya, all set for the latest adventure. We are living back on the wildlife reserve just adjacent to the Machakos turnoff (not far from Nairobi), and Tim is working full-time on a 3000 acre farm near there. Now it’s March, and we’ve just harvested barley from one field and replanted it on another field. And we’re waiting for a sorghum crop to reach maturity so we can harvest it. The rains have been excellent, and a bit early, so timing is a bit tricky, but it has been a challenging and fun learning curve for Tim. How many of you can envision him driving a combine harvester? (Not many, I’m sure!!) Starting with this blog, we will be posting regular blogs on the goings-on of the farm. Diane will hopefully have her work permit soon and then she will also be gainfully employed. In the meantime, she continues working on her Masters.

Tim checking the sorghum. He should be wearing a hat!!

Tim checking the sorghum. He should be wearing a hat!!



And this is what sorghum looks like before it turns red.

We have also managed to get settled in to our “new” house, only to get word three days ago that we could move back into our “old” house. We’ve hosted a pile of people in the old place, so we are looking forward to getting back to where we once belonged (apologies to the Beatles!). Here are a couple of pictures of the current residence:

View of our kitchen area

View of our kitchen area


Our verandah, the REAL living room; always a few impala or eland grazing nearby.

Our verandah, the REAL living room; always a few impala or eland grazing nearby.

Many of you also know that, almost 20 years ago, I (Tim) was involved in a car accident north of Nairobi, that nearly left me paralyzed. Not going into details here, other than to say that, despite a broken (smashed) L3 vertebra, I still walk, jog, skate (in Nairobi!), ski (in Canada), and climb the occasional mountain. I decided last year that I was going to run a marathon to celebrate , by God’s grace, 20 years of happy, fun-filled, adventurous post-accident life. I have been training for months now, but recently found a much better way to celebrate! Two former students of mine have started an organization called The Wellspring Foundation (www.thewellspringfoundation.org – check it out!!!) which sponsors Rwandan schools and trains Rwandan teachers. Wellspring is a young organization, but they have established a worthy track record. By way of raising the profile of Wellspring, and raising money for their great work, they are organizing a Mt. Kilimanjaro climb. I’ve joined up, and, Lord willing, I’ll head up the mountain in July with about 15 others. In order to make this climb more than just a personal celebration, I am hoping to raise a donation of AT LEAST $2000 for Wellspring. Here’s where you come in on the adventure. If you are willing to donate to the cause, please go to the Wellspring website and make a donation. It is a tax-deductible charity  if you’re lucky enough to live in Canada. Make sure you indicate in the comment section that you are sending it in as part of my fund-raising effort. I think Wellspring is an outstanding organization, and I am proud to know its founders. Please take time to donate, even if you think I’m crazy to be attempting the climb (no arguments here!!). I am so excited about this, and grateful for the opportunity. Also, if any of you are interested in donating directly to me to cover my costs (not tax deductible, no matter where you live), leave a comment on this blog and I’ll get back to you. 

Looking forward to hearing from you!!

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Beneath Vine and Fig Tree

     Almost a year ago, Diane and I moved from Kenya to Liberia. We assumed that West Africa couldn’t be too different from East Africa, right? Well, aside from the fact that Liberia is more rain-foresty, it has a lot in common with the Kenyan coastal strip – hot, humid, lots of vegetation, plenty of beach-combing to be done. We are working with the Liberian Baptist Missionary and Education Convention, living at a school owned by the convention – The Ricks Institute (www.ricksonline.org;    6°28’17.04″N,  10°48’6.25″W on GoogleEarth, and you can see our house – there are only two with shiny new roofs, and ours is the funny-shaped one on the left!). Diane is dividing her time between completing her Masters’ research and  working at the school clinic (as it transitions from school clinic to community clinic).  Canadian Baptist Ministries (www.cbmin.org) has provided funds to upgrade the facilities and the whole place looks very professional. 

     I am teaching (Biology 10 & 12) and working on two agriculture projects – one up north in a place called Kwendin, and one here at the school. The school project has been a lot of fun. Every Saturday morning for the last few months, 10th graders (plus a smattering of other students and a few kids from the community) have gathered to work on the area behind my house (now recuperating from years of use as a garbage dump…) and an old garden area near one of the dorms. As a general rule, we have 12 – 15 students working on the farm. I have 8 of every kind of gardening tool, including “cutlasses” (like a machete, or a panga if you from East Africa). 

     The chief reason I chose to reactivate this blog today is simple – I want to document the enthusiasm and hard work that the 10th graders are putting into this agriculture project. Bear in mind that very few of these students have any experience in farming. In fact, many have no knowledge of farming whatsoever. That they would take their Saturday mornings and work in the hot (beLIEVE when I use that term!!) sun, is a testimony to something I have always believed – participating in God’s on-going Creation, getting your hands in the soil, watching plants emerge some sunny morning, and knowing that meals in the future will be more meaningful – this is what it means to dwell” beneath vine and fig tree, in peace and unafraid.” And it has been a pleasure to teach these students and to work alongside them. So the next few blogs will be about the farm. I hope you enjoy the info and the pics. Have a happy day, and don’t forget to put in your seed order right away, so you can dwell ‘neath vine and fig tree yourself. God bless. ImageImageImage


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An Urban Garden in Eastleigh

Aaron and Erica Kenney have worked very hard to enter into Eastleigh life, getting to know and minister to dozens of Somalis, particularly through their language school at the Eastleigh Community Centre. Recently, they and Diane and I started talking about the diet that many of these Somalis live on, and what could be done about it. I suggested they consider “vertical gardening”.
Vertical gardening is merely gardening in a sack – in this case grain sacks left over from The Sharing Way/Canadian Food Grains Bank famine relief program. Each sack is filled with soil and fertilizer, with a crushed gravel core top to bottom. The core is for watering purposes. As the sack is filled with rich soil, holes are made in the side, and a small bedding plant is inserted, root first, into the sack. In this way, a garden with a surface area of over a square meter can be grown in an area about 30 cm x 30 cm. Excellent for urban and slum dimensions!
We used sukuma wiki, a local staple known in parts of North America as collard greens. The greens are highly nutritious and are easily grown anywhere in Kenya. Each sack can hold 15 to 20 plants on the side, as well as a few other plants on the top surface. With 44 Somali women watching, asking a gazillion questions, and participating where they could, Bruno Soucy (CBM – Rwanda) and I worked on a sample vertical garden. Aaron busied himself taking pictures, and an English speaking Somali lady translated questions and answers.
After building the first garden, the group of 44 broke into several groups, each creating their own garden. You can see the product of one group, plants and all. In about six weeks, a family could easily harvest enough from this one sac to have sukuma wiki for several meals per week. The enthusiasm of these women was huge. Some were even talking about clearing space on their front step, or any space adjacent to their residence, for up to four gardens. The gardens are very versatile, and can be used to raise a variety of crops. So the potential for improved diets in Eastleigh is huge.
After completing their own garden, my group of ladies watered the few seeds they had sprinkled on the top of the garden. Then they all gathered around, staring intently at the sack. One finally asked how long it was going to take for the seeds to grow. Concerned, I asked how many had ever grown vegetables. In the group of 15 women, only one had ever done any farming. They were a bit disappointed when I told them they wouldn’t see any new plants for about two weeks, and wouldn’t harvest anything for at least two months. However, disappointment aside, they continued to make plans with each other for new gardens for their families.
We can get an almost unlimited supply of sacks. So, the only question we have is this: where are we going to come up with soil, fertilizer, and plants for all these new gardens?? Watch this space for pictures of maturing vertical gardens!!June 2009 home and Eastleigh 074June 2009 home and Eastleigh 097Next week

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How To Organize a Conference – Kenya Style

I’ve been working for well over a week to get a conference on sustainable farming up and running. It’s a great program, and all of us (well, me, the development directors of two denominations, The Sharing Way, my wife, etc., etc.,) are extremely excited. 

The problem comes when (a) your speakers have to come from several parts of Africa, (b) the speakers all have their own agendae, (c) you are under a serious time gun, because of the anticipated seasonal rains in October, and (d) the conference is critical to how everything else pans out later on in terms of actual agricultural training. 

So, the concept is called “Farming God’s Way” (www.farming-gods-way.org) and the conference is in two weeks. About sixteen participants, and hopefully, a ripple effect that will spread through Kenya like wildfire. Will keep you posted!