By Rev SEIK PITOI
Planting trees is a part of our Melanesian culture.
Fruit trees were planted because they provided food in their season all year round. Trees were also planted to demarcate boundaries of tribal lands, and many such trees were considered sacred.
Often, trees were also planted to mark a certain event or occasion. It became an honoured event when a special guest or visitor was asked to plant a tree, or at least, cover a seedling in a ready dug hole!
Years later, the tree would tell the story of that special visitor or occasion. Indeed, there are many benefits of planting trees.
The history of modern Israel shows a denuded land, desolate and inhospitable. In the four hundred years, from 1617 to 1917 when the Ottoman Turks took control of Palestine, the infamous “tree tax” was imposed. This meant that anyone with trees growing in their yard would pay a tax for each tree.
The more trees you had, the more taxes you had to pay. So to avoid paying any tax at all, you cut down all your trees. That left the land desolate.
One of the things the first Jewish settlers did at the turn of last century was to drain the swamps and plant trees. The reafforestation programme, spearheaded by groups like the National Jewish Fund, literally made the desert bloom. Soon vegetables and fruit trees were found to be growing in formerly parched and arid desert lands.
The Bible speaks about the desolation of Israel. In Ezekiel 36, God charges the nations around Israel for the dispersion of His people and the destruction and desolation of the land, making it an object of scorn and ridicule.
Then, He prophesies that the return of His people, whom He had given the land to in covenant, would restore the land to its former glory.
The prophetic language speaks of a marriage covenant. As the groom has left the bride (the dispersion of the Jews from the land for 2,000 years), she sits forlorn and desolate. But at his return (the return of the people of God at the turn of the century), the land springs back to life. The ancient cities are resettled and the desert blooms again!
Isaiah 62 verse 4 further elaborates by saying: “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her (Beulah), and your land Married (Hephzibah); for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.”
To restore the land means having to plant trees. As God planted the first Garden with all sorts of trees (Genesis 1: 11-12), that role of planting, cultivating and taking care of God’s creation was given to man.
We are responsible for the environment we live in, and rather than just bulldoze trees to make way for the concrete jungles we are building, we should seek ways to compensate that by planting more trees than we tear down. I see no better example than that set by Israel.
As a nation bombarded almost daily with missiles, there is always damage done to the forest and other areas. (In fact, the latest attacks by the Palestinians in Gaza is in sending kites with fires lit on them into forests in Israel, causing thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to the forests, and smoke pollution to cause suffering among the population).
Because of these, and also as the region is mostly desert, more trees need to be planted to keep the land vital. All forests are hand-planted and it requires continual care.
The Jewish National Fund reports that ,”Through dedication and devotion to greening in less than 60 years, Israel has become one of only two countries in the world that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees.”
There are many forests around Israel where tress are being planted. The work of replanting has been opened up to tourists to share in.
Previously, people overseas would purchase a seedling and have it planted on their behalf in the land to mark a special occasion. They would then be sent a certificate and badge to commemorate their contribution. Today, however, tourists prefer to include in their tour programmes a ‘plant a tree’ session where they can do the planting with their own hands.
In a visit in 2013, a team from Rev Sione Kami Memorial Church went to Israel and included on the last day one such event. Late elder, Dr Chris Marjen, planted a tree on behalf of the church in a ceremony with an official prayer and dedication of the tree.
On a recent trip, United Church Moderator, Rt Rev Bernard Siai led a team of church clergy and lay leaders to plant one oak tree each in the Biblical Gardens of Neot Kedumim. They represented the national church, two regions (New Ireland and East Central Papua), and families and congregations of those who were present.
It seems significant that Papua New Guinean hands are being used in a practical way to further the cause of reafforestation in Israel. As the terrorists burn down forests, God’s people from the nations are standing with their Jewish brothers and sisters to ensure that what has been destroyed gets restored at double the pace!
I have been quite impressed with the work of reafforestation in Israel.
Could we learn a lesson from them? Can we allow some trees to grow even in urban areas so we don’t have the ‘concrete jungle’ look? Can we have ceremonies where we give opportunities for people to buy and plant trees in gardens set aside around the city?
Maybe even have foreign dignitaries’ plant a tree each in strategic locations around the country. In any case, we too should be enforcing the importance of planting trees and encouraging our citizens and visitors alike to contribute to it.
By Rev SEIK PITOI