Hopes for 2023: Planting more oak trees

Greg Harris is the National Director of Bush Church Aid (BCA) who describes himself as “a simple country preacher”. After more than two decades in parish ministry in rural and regional NSW and Victoria, he now leads a mission organisation with over 100 years of gospel ministry and service. Here Greg shares his hopes for 2023.

Greg Harris

Greg Harris

Planting more ‘oak trees!’. Yes – that is my hope for 2023. However, I should add that I am not talking about literal oak trees. To be honest, I am more captured by the wonderful native trees we have in Australia – but I digress.

My focus on oak trees stems from a quote I came across years ago that caught my attention. It said vision is about “planting trees under which I will never swing, but under which my children and my children’s children will.” A similar proverb speaks about “blessed are those who plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.”

As you will rightly observe, in these words of wisdom there is no mention of oak trees, so let me explain further. When I reflect on those words I am drawn back to a time when I would visit a beautiful stone chapel at Gostwyck in the New England Tablelands of NSW. As I approached the chapel, I was greeted by the most picturesque avenue of mature oak trees on either side of the road – and yes, it is worth Googling.

As you may know, oak trees are notoriously slow growing. For that reason, I knew that whenever I profited from walking through this avenue of mature trees, there was a person who had decades earlier planted them and never benefited from the fruit of their labour.

My hope is that every year, but especially as I consider 2023 ahead of me, I should plant oak trees for the generations to come. This should be a goal of all ministries, shouldn’t it?

If we are not planting oak trees that are gospel leaders now, what will there be in the years ahead?

At BCA I hope to continue establishing pathways to support and train new leaders for gospel ministry in rural, regional and remote Australia. If we are not planting oak trees that are gospel leaders now, what will there be in the years ahead? Will the less-resourced parts of Australia be even more limited?

Additionally, I want to see young Christian teachers, nurses, or a myriad of other workers, move to the bush and catch a vision of the oak trees that they can plant in those small towns. In these places, they can be a blessing to the community and the church. That is why we have kickstarted BCA ONTRACK, a program for young workers moving to the bush.

Of course, we still look for ways that BCA can empower First Nations Christians to be a mission force for their own people. That too is planting oak trees that children and their children’s children will sit under.

Too often in our society we seek instant gratification. Yet, if we want the quick gratification of fast-growing trees that look good on our resumé, we need to remember that they come with shallow roots and soft wood, seriously susceptible to the storms of life.

The parent who models grace-filled parenting to their children is planting oak trees.

At BCA I sit under the mature oak trees of good gospel ministry planted by those who have come before me. Stretching back over 100 years, these 11 ministers served in the role I am now in. It is such a challenge to make sure I plant oak trees for whoever follows me.

However, this idea of planting oak trees can be for each of us, no matter who or where we are. The parent who models grace-filled parenting to their children is planting oak trees. The retired person who makes themselves available to help new Australians learn English is definitely planting oak trees. The list of examples is limited only by our imagination.

However, there is one oak tree that rises above them all. It alone will be a blessing to our children, their children and their children’s children. It alone will bring blessings for all eternity. That oak tree is faith in Jesus.

My hope for 2023 is to plant oak trees to benefit the ministry of BCA for years to come, and today’s rural, regional and remote Australia. That said, my deepest hope and prayer is to plant oak trees that will bring life for eternity to come.