Volunteers plant their thousandth tree in Pomona—a visual reminder of God’s blessing and redemption
Five years ago, volunteers with community organization Clean & Green Pomona planted their first tree at a local elementary school. Last December, this group celebrated as they planted their thousandth sapling. Servant Partners Co-General Director Lisa Engdahl is a co-founder and president of Clean & Green, and marks this milestone as a signal of hope.
“Even just one tree is transformative, but one thousand trees has a profound impact on our whole city,” Lisa said. Clean & Green routinely mobilizes hundreds of neighbors to plant drought-tolerant trees across Pomona’s schools, streets, and parks. Community members of all ages, from children to retirees, eagerly join this long-term work of renewing their environment.
“Trees are intergenerational treasures that last into the future, so it’s special that planting is done between generations of people,” Lisa remarked. “It’s children that will see these trees come into their fullness.”
Trees improve a neighborhood’s air quality, sequester toxins, reduce heat, and provide shade—among other crucial purposes in inner-city environments. Yet, they are often lacking in urban marginalized communities.
“Injustice is not only manifested in the mistreatment of human beings, but through the abuse of the created environment,” Lisa said. The needless destruction of creation, and the pollution of the air, water, and soil with toxic substances occurs disproportionately in marginalized communities, adversely affecting people’s health and safety. “Justice should extend to our environment,” Lisa said.
Besides the many practical benefits of trees, Lisa believes trees have biblical significance. She shares at length about this in Deuteronomy (Polis Bible Commentary):
“Deuteronomy describes the value of protecting fruit-bearing trees in the midst of war the same way we protect great works of art, historic buildings and cultural treasures. In other words, trees are regarded in Deuteronomy 20:19-20 as treasures of God’s creation, meant to be a multi-generational blessing. They produce food, and are not easily or quickly replaced. Their loss would be impactful for generations.”
The interplay between the garden and city is constant throughout scripture–from Eden’s tree of life, to the sinful origins of Cain and Lamech’s city, to Jesus’ death on a cross (referred to as a tree, in some biblical passages), and ending in God’s remaking of city and garden alike in Revelation. Trees are visual symbols and markers calling us back to what God established in creation, and pointing us forward to the eternal, life-giving garden-city of God.
“There’s something hope-giving about trees and gardens in the city,” Lisa said. “When we plant trees and gardens in the city, we are reminded of the shalom of Eden, the presence and redemption of God our Creator in the midst of our troubled world, and the future God has for us living in His holy presence in the garden-city of His coming Kingdom,” Lisa said.
Pomona’s streets, schools, and parks are now alive with over a thousand trees. In decades to come, the same children that planted them will walk under their shade, enjoying the signs of God’s blessing in their city.
“There’s something hope-giving about trees and gardens in the city. When we plant trees and gardens in the city, we are reminded of the shalom of Eden, the presence and redemption of God our Creator in the midst of our troubled world, and the future God has for us living in His holy presence in the garden-city of His coming Kingdom."