“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:6-7
How can a small, wrinkled seed become a towering walnut tree? How can it thrive despite all the predators and dangers that threaten to disrupt the growing process? And what does it teach us?
The story of how God germinated and has been growing the ministry of Planted is a beautiful picture of how he uses his people in his work. Yet only God is able to give the growth. The story of Planted, like the walnut tree or like the transformation of a single person, is a testimony to the glorious power and wisdom of the Farmer. It is a reminder to encourage our hearts, strengthen our faith, and deepen our awe.
A Call to Stewardship – Sean and Carol Mills
The story of God’s sovereign hand in one’s life has no discernible beginning, just a point from which you can start to recognize it. That point for us was 1794 when Sean’s 5-great-grandparents settled this plot of frontier wilderness in northeast PA. God planted them here to steward the land, raise a family, and start a church in Laceyville. For the next 200 years, this property providentially stayed in the family mostly intact. In 2012, Sean and Carol, were able to move back to the family farm.
Then the question was – what to do with this dormant family plot with a house, some farm buildings, hay fields and a lot of woods? Sean and Carol prayed and pondered over this for several years while investigating possible uses. They wanted to put it to use it in a way that would honor God and serve people well.
In this same period, an unexpected source of income allowed the Mills to start an entrepreneurial venture in aquaponics and purchase the adjoining property which included a large old house, a small house, and 4 motel units – a set of buildings ideally suited for some form of residential ministry.
Previously in life Carol had worked as a nurse and in various missions. Sean had a background in poverty alleviation, pastoral ministry, and development work for a non-profit. God had worked into them both a heart for discipleship with young adults. He had given them rich experience in teaching, hospitality, and managerial capacities. The farming and residential facility was in place, but what should all these pieces come together to specifically do in their next phase of life? Enter the Feisters . . .
Over a decade ago, God put on Ashley’s heart a desire to disciple college-age students using general revelation (creation) to better understand special revelation (Scripture). Her experience of the richness of a small one-year Bible program gave her an example of Biblical training, outdoor education, and intentional community flourishing together. And her time as an outdoor adventure trip leader at a summer camp continued to show her how often God in his Word uses creation to illustrate his truth in such tangible ways.
David’s heart for pastoral ministry, farming, and the local church was grafted into this dream and their specific vision for Planted, a “gap year” (or one year) discipleship program that would be located on a working farm, was born. The program would integrate Bible and Christian worldview classes, outdoor adventure, farming, service, mentorship, and community life into an 8-9 month experience for high school grads. The seed was planted.
Experiencing Revelation Together – David and Ashley Feister
But the vision laid in the ground dormant as God gave David and Ashley the joy of becoming parents, working as an administrator at a Christian health center, and serving in the local church.
Five years into their marriage, God began stirring their hearts again with a burden for young people to know and love Jesus, to be equipped with tools to read and understand God’s Word, and to be encouraged to put it into practice. They began to talk and pray more earnestly with others about the vision for Planted. They asked God to provide a farm and ministry partners. The seed was watered by encouraging ideas, good counsel, and prayer with others in their living room. And yet the thought of that tiny seed in the ground becoming a tree seemed almost too good to be true and too big to be possible.
A Vision Sprouts
“I need to connect you with friends of ours.” One of the ladies in Ashley’s women’s Bible study had come up to her after the group prayed together about the dream on the Feister’s hearts. “Good friends of ours own a farm in Northeast PA and have a similar vision for ministry.”
Shortly after that, in April 2019, the two couples talked for the first time. That conversation was followed by visits, more conversations, and times of prayer together. Realizing their parallel visions and complementary gifts, they became companions in the quest to launch Planted. And the beautiful farm in the mountains of PA along the Susquehanna River became the home for Planted—complete with student housing facilities, outdoor recreation opportunities, and a budding aquaponics operation.
And not only that, God was providing an important resource to help this tiny seedling begin to really grow: people. In addition to the new friendship between the Feisters and the Mills, God brought an Aquaponics Coordinator and a Farm Coordinator to help get those aspects up and running. He also assembled seven gifted and enthusiastic board members for Planted, who met for the
first time in February 2020. This board brought together wisdom and experience needed to form a solid foundation. And God has continued to provide many other volunteers with needed skills at just the right time. “God gives the growth.”
In December 2020, a little under two years since that first conversation between Sean, Carol, David, and Ashley, God provided the funds, through the generosity of his people, for the Feisters to come on staff full-time with Planted and move from Philadelphia to the farm. And the board set Fall 2022 as the start date for Planted’s first class.
Together the Mills and the Feisters, along with the Planted Board, are amazed at the privilege of watching and being a part of God grounding and growing this ministry. We are excited to see this same God ground and grow students through this program. And we look forward in anticipation to how he will continue writing this story.