By Dr Matthew Elliott, President, Oasis International

Stream by Matthew’s house

My wife, Laura, and I have moved to the woods, and we are really loving it. To get up in the morning and see trees and hear a bubbling stream instead of 18-wheel trucks, beeps, and traffic from one of Chicago’s main city arteries – North Avenue – refreshes the soul. However, when Laura and I watched the trees around our house bending much farther then seemed natural in 60-mile-per-hour winds storm, we certainly felt more vulnerable than in our neat suburban neighborhood last year. Last year, high winds just meant a bunch of garbage getting blown into my end-of-the-street-yard if it was on trash day. Now, we no longer put out our trash on the curb; we transport it to the dump as there is no trash collection. Here in the woods, there are dozens of big trees that could blow through a window right into our bedroom, kitchen, or living room.

Trees torn up from the roots in the woods near Matthew’s home

The next morning, the wreckage from the storm was a lot worse than some blown garbage. Trees were uprooted, blocking the one road to town, roads were covered in broken branches, and our deck furniture was in disarray. The next day, we saw trees over 50 feet tall blown down throughout the woods, root balls exposed and sticking into the air. As we drove out of our mountain home to town, we kept pointing at the downed trees. “Look at that one! That one was over the road before they cut it down. Look over there – there are three blown down together.” There were one or two maple or oaks broken in half, but all the trees that came up from the roots, blown over out of the dirt were pines. These pines were growing close together in a pine forest. They seemed to rely on each other to break the wind and grow tall instead of growing deep roots. But for many, this strategy failed during this wild storm.

Angel Oak

As I was on my prayer walk this morning, I noticed even more trees pulled over with roots sticking straight up vertical and tree-trunks that should be vertical; horizontal. It made me remember a single tree – one of the most beautiful in all the world. On my first visit to Charleston, South Carolina to visit my wife’s grandparents as a newly engaged couple, she dragged me to see Angel Oak. “We’re driving all this way to see an old tree” I thought, “really?” As old as 500 years (some think over 1,000), measuring 28 feet around and 187 feet wide from tip to tip, instantly I knew it was worth the trip. Breathtaking! They think Angel Oak is one of the oldest living things in North America. Angel Oak survived the 135 mile an hour winds of hurricane Hugo in 1989, the 130 mile an hour winds of hurricane Hazel in 1954, hurricane Gracie in 1959, and hurricane Matthew’s flooding in 2016. And how many mighty storms came before, in the 400 years before we named hurricanes?

Angel Oak still stands after 135 mile an hour swirling winds, flooding, and pouring rains; in the path of some of the most awesome storms the Atlantic Ocean has to offer. Our inland pines got torn up from the roots in gusts of 60 mph.

I think of these hurricanes, and the curled and even distorted, twisted, ancient, branches of Angel Oak. Twisted from 500 years of standing alone in the path of ocean weather. But between great storms it was being nourished by the intense sun with no other trees shielding it from the warmth, getting plenty of water from moist ocean winds and growing roots deep. Times of plenty and times of struggle made twisted deformity into awe-inspiring majestic beauty.

And I think of God’s work growing me. What kind of roots do I have? Am I working on growing my roots when things are good? What is under the surface to secure me for the storms and wind ahead? Am I like a fast-growing pine in a forest, relying on the group to keep me upright? Or am I building my roots to stand alone – if need be – in any weather?

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

Isaiah 61:3 (NLT)

That is our mission at Oasis – to grow righteous oaks with majestic branches grown up through hardship and twisted in suffering, with deep roots from knowing and understanding the words of God. These are the mighty trees that people will travel hundreds of miles to see, just to behold their greatness and rest in their shade. These are the oaks that the Lord has planted for his glory and to bless the world.

Dr Elliott’s passion to help leaders in Africa develop and access ministry tools, with content addressing needs in their contexts, has driven him to lead Oasis International for over two decades. Click here to learn more about Dr Elliott.

Learn more about the work of Oasis and how you can support discipleship through publishing African voices, here.

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