Shortly after Easter on the 12th of May 2019, we dedicated our new Bible Garden to the Lord with a special celebration and thanksgiving service.
The idea for this Bible Garden was born from a desire to re-landscape the front entrance of the church property in such a way that it would make the walk up the hill to the church for our members and visitors a spiritual experience as they come to worship every Sunday. We also felt that it could be used as a means for people who do not yet know the Lord, or normally come to Church, to be introduced to God through His amazing creation.
The actual Bible Garden idea came to me while having dinner at my Aunt Vera’s home in Northern Ireland where I met up with my cousin (Wee Vera, as she is known in our family). I hadn’t seen Vera for some years due to the fact that she married a Swede and has been living in Sweden ever since I’ve been here in Portugal. That year it just happened that we were all in Northern Ireland visiting family at the same time and we got the chance to catch up over dinner. That evening Vera began telling us about her garden in Sweden and of course, I proceeded to tell her about our church garden here in Vale Judeu and the idea we had to develop it.
Vera told me how she and her husband had created a themed garden around their home in Sweden for personal prayer and reflection but had realised that it had created opportunities for evangelising their neighbours who were interested in their horticultural project. They would invite their neighbours to walk through their garden while they would talk to them about God and His plan of Salvation. She said something that immediately struck a chord with me and got me thinking about what we could do in our church garden here in Vale Judeu. She said, the only thing she didn’t like about her garden in Sweden, was that it was too cold to grow most of the plants found in the Bible. Right then, it hit me! In the Algarve we can grow all the plants found in the Bible as the climate of the Algarve is basically identical to the Holy Land. From that moment on the dream was fixed in my mind. I shared it with the Church Council and got the go ahead to proceed with the plan.
A huge amount of hard work has gone into making this vision a reality. The site has been totally transformed from what was once an overgrown hillside into a themed Bible Garden where visitors to IECA can enjoy a leisurely stroll through the story of the Bible from the Garden of Eden, into the cursed world of thorns and thistles, through Noah’s flood and on into Ur of the Chaldees. From there they can proceed on a journey with Abraham up into the Land of Canaan. The pathway will then lead the visitor down to Egypt and along the banks of the Nile; they will then take a journey through the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula and finally cross the river Jordan back up into the promised land. All the while the visitor will hear the sound of running water and get a feel for natural world of the Holy Land with its rugged rocky outcrops and incredible variety of stunning Biblical plants.
We are so grateful to the Lord for His miraculous provision of the funds necessary for this project through many generous donations. As with all the other developments we have been involved in over these past few years, we have always waited until the the finances were in place before going ahead as confirmation that what we were doing was something that God wanted us to do.
It has been incredible to see how God has provided the money for all the rocks (from a quarry in São Brás) and the building materials. We are so grateful to all those who have donated plants or given money to purchase trees and plants mentioned in the Bible and others who have donated benches and pots. We still haven’t been able to resource all the plants mentioned in the Bible but in time, we hope to add to our present collection of plants that are already here such as our Carob tree, Olive tree, Cypress tree, Cedar of Lebanon, Apple, Lemon, Peach, Plane, Poplar, Willow, Pine, Date Palm, Judas tree, Walnut tree, Fig tree, Pistachio, Pomegranate etc along with shrubs like Myrtle, Bay, Rock Rose, Rose of Sharon, Box Tree, Vines and many many more for you to identify as you wander through.
We are also very grateful to the Lord for sending us Matthew McCartney who has literally moved mountains of earth and rock with his mini digger over these past couple of years along with a band of skilled stone masons from São Brás de Alportel. We also had the help of a local plumber Arlindo who installed the pumps for the ponds and streams along with a local metal welder Tulio who was responsible for all the metal work. And last but not least we can’t forget our very own lighting expert/electrician Gino. All these folks have worked together to create what visitors will experience and appreciate for many years to come as they come to worship here at IECA. Like any garden it will take time to mature and we hope that each time you visit us, you will take the time to walk around the garden and through it experience God and His amazing creation in a deeper way.
Above all it is our prayer that God will be glorified as people reflect on his incredible creation and think over the Biblical lessons that are taught through the hundreds of references and illustrations using plants that are found throughout the Bible.
Mark Loney - Pastor