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Footprints of Faith: Fruitful Faith

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Tucked away in an urban South Salt Lake neighborhood is a garden -- a beautiful stretch of rich soil, ripe vegetables, green and growing plants. But this plot is the result of more than just hardworking hands. This garden grew out of prayer, out of fasting and out of faith.

An Idaho girl at heart, Martha Carlson has always appreciated open space.

"I like being outside. I like watering. I like weeding. I just like working outside," Carlson explains.

But when her husband passed away 24 years ago, she took on full responsibility for her own yard and the vacant lot out back -- land they had cared for together for most of the 60 years they have lived there.

"It's a big job and a lot of hard work," she says.

Last Spring, Martha faced a hard reality. After years of work and careful care, she felt overwhelmed at the thought of planting and plotting yet another year.

"It dawned on me I just couldn't do it anymore," she says. "It was just too much."

So, she prayed.

Nearby, local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were saying prayers of their own.

The Columbus Branch is an LDS congregation of approximately 220 people, made up of Karen Karenni, Chin, and Burmese refugees. Many of those Church members have spent most of their lives in refugee camps in Thailand. Most are new converts, and most are grasping to connect to a new culture.

"When we formed this branch a year ago, on June 14, immediately we realized we need to reconnect them with the earth," says Michael Nebeker, second counselor of the Columbus Branch Presidency.

Having lived in Thailand, Nebeker knows firsthand the connection these people have with the Earth. He and other church leaders recognized their members love and need for fresh food. A simple solution was a community garden, but the difficult question was where?

"We took it on, as a branch presidency and a branch, as a matter of fasting and prayer to pray and find the right location for these people," Nebeker says.

Newly-called Young Men's President Dallin Cromer immediately thought of his next-door neighbor, Martha Carlson.

"I came over and talked to Martha after church that very day, and she immediately said it would be a huge blessing to her if they would use the land," Cromer recalls.

With ground to till, the branch needed a teacher. Enter Bob Roylance.

"They knew I had a little bit of experience with gardening, so I said 'OK,'" Roylance laughs.

By a "little bit" of experience, he means 40 years of work with the Church's farming systems.

"I came out and looked that ground and said 'Wow,'" Roylance said. "You can't go wrong with that kind of soil and with artisan water. I mean, we were truly blessed."

The blessings continued to pour in: A local business donated a tractor, irrigation companies pitched in with equipment, snd the list goes on.

"God has provided everything we have needed, including the rain and sunshine," Nebeker says. "It's a miracle; really, a modern-day miracle."

A modern-day miracle that plays out in many different ways and in many different lives.

By selling produce from the garden at a local market, the Boy Scouts from that branch were able to attend summer camp.

"We grew all of this," Boy Scout Hsernay Gay says proudly. "This head of lettuce is as big as my leg!"

A culture was connected in an otherwise familiar country.

"Often times at night, these families congregate at the garden," Nebeker says. "They sit in circles, right in the dirt, and will sing songs. It's more than a garden, it's a home away from home. It's a reminiscent of their life in Burma and in Thailand in a green, abundant part of the world.

So it's in a shared and very special space of soil that testimonies were tilled, spirits sprouted and faith grew in abundance.

"I just feel like the Lord has had a hand in it," Martha says, "not only in helping me, but in helping these refugees."

"We are blessed to be a part of this miracle," Nebeker says. "They bring to our faith a humbleness, a dedication and a faith that is rare to find in this world."


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Brooke Walker


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