By: Haley Wilbanks

Right now, many of the fields around Agora are bright yellow, blooming with mustard plants whose seeds will soon be harvested and processed by the villagers. These small flowers surround Agora with a beautiful, lively and hopeful energy because they’re planted on many different levels of terraces both above and below the village. When I first learned that these were mustard plants, I immediately thought of the famous parable from Sunday school and the idea that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. It feels fitting, then, that I spent much of our time in Agora thinking about the ideas of faith and trust.

Honestly, I often find it challenging to have faith in the goodness of the world or the future because it’s so easy to get quickly swept up in the negativity of our culture at home. Watching the nightly news usually makes my chest tight. Standing in the Delhi airport and seeing the New Zealand shooting story on the television, I momentarily lost faith because I’m reminded of the significant hate in our world. As a science teacher, sometimes I lose faith when I think about all the damage we’ve done to our planet because we’ve learned to prioritize temporary comfort over anything else. And this negativity often feels so inherent to our culture that it will turn into a self-fulling prophecy or a vicious circle of learning to expect the worst.

That being said, there’s something about the magic of Agora that restores and strengthens my faith in the world. I think it’s because pure goodness is naturally the heart of their small community and it comes to life through the people who live there. My host mom shared her love without words everyday – she held my hand for at least half an hour on the night we said goodbye and poured love into the chai and food she’d make. She is hardworking and kind and you look into her eyes and see the best of the human spirit. Her son, Praveen, is the same way. And so is Suman. When I look at all of them, I see God’s grace and light and that truly amazes me because they don’t even believe in the same God that I do. They’ve reminded me of the pure goodness in our world and have given me a mustard seed.

The most hopeful part of this story, though, is that 32 young, impressionable high school students have also experienced this magical hospitality and indescribable kindness in their own ways. Just read some of the blog posts. They’ve laughed for hours with new friends, they’ve eaten meals that represent so much more than good food, they’ve worked alongside blacksmiths, they’ve carried baskets of compost up through terraces, they’ve made lasting friendships and connections regardless of language. The students who came on this trip have each been given a mustard seed, too – and the fact that the seeds are in the lives of young people with so much opportunity ahead of them gives me hope. It’s why I chose education and why I feel grateful to work at Christchurch.

As we begin classes again today and are surrounded by temptations to slide seamlessly back into our routines, I’ve been thinking about how we can sow our mustard seeds into fields like the ones around Agora. It will take some time and look different for everyone, because we each have our own individual mountain we would like to move. So right now, I believe that just having the mustard seed is enough – that we must cling tightly to this newfound, strengthened faith and carry the magic of Agora with us. Because when we have faith in the goodness of the world, faith in ourselves or faith in a greater plan, as Jesus says “you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20).

7 responses to “Mustard Seeds”

  1. jbyersccs Avatar

    Ah, a powerful and soul stirring challenge to all of us who have experience the beauty, inner and external, of Agora. Thank you Haley! The parable of the mustard seed is all about faith. Even the mini-grants that the Diocese of Virginia makes to fund small projects that might turn into great things are called Mustard Seed Grants. Thanks for bringing this element of our Episcopal Identity into this part of our work–Global Education. We are called to bring that identity into all that we do, wherever we go, and represent a school and a Church that welcomes all people as “beloved children of God.” You are powerfully calling us to tend the seeds that have been planted in our hearts and minds. A wonderful challenge for Lent.

  2. sibby wilson Avatar
    sibby wilson

    This is a wonderful read for the Lenten season Haley. I love traveling with CCS through these powerful and though provoking blog posts. Glad everyone returned safely.

  3. Dave's Mom Avatar
    Dave’s Mom

    Haley – I know I’m not supposed to play favorites, but I have to tell you that the “mustard seed” you planted in the blog was my favorite read of them all… and some of them just blew me away! Among your many talents, writing this moving commentary on life in Agora ranks near the top! Bravo to you and thank you.
    I know from a reliable source what an incredible asset you were on this journey as a leader, mentor, and friend. How lucky CCS is to have you on the faculty.
    Welcome home…finally!

  4. Janice Thomas Avatar
    Janice Thomas

    Haley I’m looking forward to sitting down with you and a cup of tea so I can hear your stories. I too, feel overwhelmed with the world and all of it’s pain and suffering, but you and your students share hope and joy and love. It helps my tiny mustard seed heart bloom again…and I’m grateful.

  5. A Showalter Avatar

    Thank you, Haley. This captures so much of the complicated emotions and thoughts that set in for those of us who experience Agora with our fellow teachers and students. Hope and love are so real there. For many of us, fear lurks at the edges too–of changes ahead, of the destructive nature of human habits, of hatred and intolerance, and worries about when those things will reach Agora or our own homes. But the mustard seed reminder is a powerful one. Really beautiful.

  6. Beth Avatar

    Haley, beautifully written with a message of hope for all of us. I have enjoyed hitchhiking along with CCS on this wondrous journey.

  7. Jan Showalter Avatar
    Jan Showalter

    This is truly a beautiful and powerful message of hope. Thank you!

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