(Editor’s Note: I met my friend Claudio Oliver several years back, and by way of video calls or emails have always highly valued our conversations about discipleship to Jesus, sustainable living, agriculture, culture, community and everything in between. This brief glimpse into Claudio’s community journey comes by way of the fine folks at Plough Publishing House and Plough Quarterly who are allowing us to repost Claudio’s words here on the Sustainable Traditions website.
If you are not familiar with Plough Quarterly we highly recommend you check it out. Well known for their excellent books and resources that they offer on and through their website, the Plough Quarterly is an artfully produced publication for anyone serious about whole-life discipleship to Jesus.
The magazine features insights, theological reflections, articles and stories that will appeal to any thinking Christian but especially to those of us with Anabaptist leanings or who are on a journey to more fully live out our Christian faith in every day life. The Plough Quarterly issue number four, with the topic of ‘Earth’, was thoroughly enjoyable both for it’s creative design as well as meaty content. If you’ve never checked it out – don’t wait! – JF)
Casa da Videira (“House of the Vine”) is a collective of families in Curitiba, Brazil, dedicated to “ following the steps of Jesus.” Their work in organic gardening, waste management, and fair trade is inspired by Jesus, the first Christians, and guides as diverse as Thomas Aquinas, William Booth, Leo Tolstoy, Eberhard Arnold, and Vandana Shiva. While the group gladly receives people of varying commitment and beliefs, major decisions are made by those committed to Christ and a scriptural basis. Supported through donations and crowdfunding, they depend on prayer while working towards financially supporting themselves by selling traditional bread and groceries as well as soap made from recycled vegetable oil. Claudio Oliver, the community’s pastor (pictured above), reports:
Our journey has been rooted in scripture, culture, and agriculture. One of our community’s most important values is to “embrace contingency” – to welcome each encounter God sends us, just as Jesus taught in the story of the Good Samaritan, who helped the wounded man he found lying on the Jericho road. This is far more important than any strategic planning. Rather than attempting to determine where we are going, we must know with Whom we are going. Each time we encounter new surprises, discoveries, and inspiration, the saying comes to mind: “The sign of God’s work is when we are led where we did not plan to go.”
For years, our church focused on serving the so-called poor, working with homeless people, youth groups, and in community development. Even with good results, however, we came to realize that having church and social ministry as two separate efforts resulted in a sort of spiritual schizophrenia. We were not living with those we wanted to serve. In fact, we were a bunch of well-intentioned, middle class people crossing the city to do something we all believed was good.
After deeper reflection on the scriptures, we felt called to move our church from its original location in the Bom Retiro neighborhood of Curitiba, to Villa Fanny, a very poor neighborhood – not to only help them, but also to mend our own divided minds and actions. Still an institutional church, we adopted the motto: “We do not have a social ministry anymore; the church is the social ministry to the world.” In Villa Fanny we found new work: we gardened, taught classical music, offered art classes, formed multilingual choirs, addressed environmental issues, started soap making, composted, and eventually transformed a parking lot into a garden with more than three hundred species – a place that teemed with life and the sounds of children.
But we soon realized that our name “Casa” was nonsense: only a few of us actually lived in the area. We decided to move again, to where we could live our faith not just on Sundays but the whole week; not just in church, but in our homes and neighborhood, letting people see who we were with our families and activities. So we moved again, this time to Mossunguê, a more gentrified area, where we started Quinta da Videira (“Homestead of the Vine”).
The urban farm we started here, in a tiny backyard of less than three hundred square yards, has led us further than any plan could have. Christian and secular organizations, universities, television programs, and research institutes have all come to see our simple garden and our daily life. It seems that the key to such an impact (even though our group of believers became smaller) grew clearer along the way: we were not launching a ministry or a project to serve people. Instead, we would just be there, with people, answering each challenge as best we could, trying to be honest, simple, and sincere while remaining biblically, scientifically, and technically serious about all our decisions and actions.
Starting with only a mustard seed, we began to see mountains start to move. We processed four tons of neighborhood garbage every month, produced four tons of food a year, shared common meals, received students from universities and colleges, wrote scientific articles on agriculture, and raised goats, chickens, and rabbits.
We called ourselves “urban farmers,” not because it sounded trendy, but because that was the best way we found to express our loyalty to the God of creation. We have no loyalty to the false god called “market” and its mediator “money.” Through gardening and composting, we create a new relationship with animals and plants: we are affirming another way of life, where the rhythms and balance of creation can express the freedom the Creator has promised us.
Naturally, this has not been well received by everyone. To some of our neighbors, we were spreading the fragrance of spiritual and technological knowledge; to others we smelled like horse manure. The city administration confronted us because of legal restrictions on farming in urban areas, but they ended up praising us as an example of environmental care for the city. Each barrier opened new doors and allowed the Lord to change our lives.
We did not have to advertise Jesus or our way of life with words; we had only to base our daily decisions on him. Once we honestly (and imperfectly) tried to follow the Lord, people who usually aren’t interested in religion or in Jesus came by themselves. One example is a friend of mine, an atheist professor at the local university. Our reading of the scriptures and our care for creation affected him so much that now, whenever he brings his students to visit, he always says: “Show what you want . . . but please do not jump over your faith and why you do what you do.”
Recently we moved again, this time to the rural area of Palmeira. Now, in partnership with a Mennonite group, we have started an “experimental station,” surrounded by soy plantations, fracking, and tobacco farms. We hope to inspire small farmers with alternative and environmentally sound methods; we believe that a life based in scripture can lead to an abundance of life as opposed to the excesses of the market. So now, rather than calling ourselves urban farmers, we call ourselves rural gardeners. In this simple life we are called to love one another, and to build community.
As rural gardeners, our lack of mechanization and our attitude of care – both expressions of our faith – are starting to bear fruit. Small organic farmers are opening doors for us, calling us friends and wishing to know more about the scriptures and gardening.
We are not creating a model or a program, but we do hope to inspire other churches and groups to experiment more: that is, not to live under the obligation of “doing good,” but to embrace contingency, caring for the neighbor you meet on the Jericho road, inspired by Jesus’ example of love and readiness to serve. I know that the Lord will take you and your community to places and people you never dreamed of.
To learn more about Casa da Videira or watch an English-language video on their work, visit www.casadavideira.com.br.
Photographs courtesy of Claudio Oliver.
*Disclosure: A copy of Plough Quarterly magazine was gifted to us by Plough Publishing House. Any reviews or comments concerning publications or products made through the Sustainable Traditions website are offered without obligation or contract to any third party. We love sharing good resources and hope you enjoy.