#ThinkingThursdays | Gleaning in the fields

Things were going well for Naomi and she was hopeful. She had a wonderful family, and two lovely sons. But in an unexpected time of famine, Naomi and her family had to move to a foreign land, and after many happy years, tragedy struck: her husband and sons died. Naomi was left in an unknown place without any family. Have you ever thought that this Naomi is like the modern day church? In many ways like the Church now, Naomi was bereft. She’d lost her children and her hope for the future.

With no way forward, Naomi returns to the familiar, back to Bethlehem: another trait of the contemporary church. But in this story, there is an unexpected turn of events: her widowed daughter-in-law decides to come too. Ruth, a young and able lady, has a good future where she is – but her commitment to Naomi means she’s willing to go to a new and unknown place. Here Ruth and Naomi have very little. But with a little courage, Ruth goes gleaning in the fields; picking up the unwanted, leftover crops. From these scraps both Ruth and Naomi are sustained. This is a bit like pioneering. Ruth, like the pioneer, so committed to the church, is willing to enter the unfamiliar context and glean from the overlooked to sustain them. 

Then the Landowner, Boaz, like a Father, instructs the reapers to leave more crops for Ruth – and she receives them as a blessing. In this moment, Naomi recognises that Boaz is good, and she encourages Ruth to spend more time with him. In the same way it is the role of the church to recognise God at work in the world and encourage pioneers to embrace the context.

This story has a happy ending: Ruth and Boaz are married. This brings the hope of new family.  And interestingly new family and hope for Naomi. From Ruth, the outsider, the pioneer, comes a new beginning for God’s people: a direct ancestor in the line of David.

I find it interesting that Naomi’s hope is tied up with Ruth, the pioneer. Ruth carefully maintains her commitment to both Naomi and to gleaning in the field. Likewise the pioneer must be faithful to the church and the context; and only in embracing the context can new hope be found for the church. Also hospitality is more about receiving than giving. In this story it is Ruth’s vulnerability and openness to welcome that brings God’s blessing.

And the most treasured discovery in here is the art of gleaning: taking sustenance from the resources in the context and culture that are so often overlooked by both those in the church and the context itself. I love the image of gardening for what we do in youth work – of tending, planting, nurturing. As youth workers, do you think we are bringing seeds to plant, or are we watering the seeds already in the ground? Is mission simply about cultivating our own gardens in the hope young people will be inspired to cultivate theirs? The gospel always has a counter cultural edge, but I think ‘seeds of the word’ can always be found in places beyond the church. If I take one thing from the story of Ruth & Naomi, it is that God’s blessing and goodness can be found in fields.

Frontier Youth Trust is building a movement of pioneering youth work – encouraging youth workers and churches to take mission risks to reach young people. Contact us for help in exploring this thinking in your practice.

This is not really my own work. This story was written by the mission group in my local community in Weston-super-Mare to encapsulate our approach to mission and ministry as part of a funding application. If you want to engage young people in thinking about building a faith-life rooted in their context, try using the FYT Experiments resource found in our shop.

Photo Credit: Photo by Peter Kleinau on Unsplash