News & Resources

Courses that Change Your Life: Tropical Agriculture and Missions (Biol/Agric/Geog 343)

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage in College Program in Faculty | Oct 27, 2015

Do people who plan to work as missionaries and development specialists in foreign countries need environmental skills? The answer is, not surprisingly, yes. But the next question is, where can a student see missions, development, and environmental science effectively combined in a single college course? The answer to this second question is: in Au Sable’s Tropical Agriculture and Missions course. Like all Au Sable courses, this one is field intensive, but this time the “field” is in Costa Rica, and it may be a field of corn, soybeans, cassava, or any of a multitude of crop plants that can flourish in a tropical environment. Tomas Dozier of Costa Rica's Association for Development through Education takes students from colleges across the US and Canada to learn how missions and the environment interact, and why they need to. Set in the rural mountains of Costa Rica, students reside on the campus of an active Christian development organization, Association for Development through Education (ADE), learning from both ADE staff and local residents about the problems (and solutions) associated with tropical agriculture and its effects on missions and development efforts. A student from the 2013 class explained, “Going and visiting local farmers I think was a really good experience. Not only could we meet local people, but we could also experience something they do every day and is an important part of their culture.”

From ADE and local residents, students in Tropical Agriculture and Missions learn the scientific basis and practical use of low-cost agriculture techniques, the requirements of major regional crop plants, and the major issues facing effective integration of missions and community development. The mix of biology and missions is not just in the subject matter, but in the students who make up the class. As one missions student put it, “Having not come from a scientific background, I felt I was able to keep up with the pace of the class without too much difficulty while my bio major friends were also able to get a lot out of the course. The instructor did an excellent job of making learning hands-on as we traveled across several ecosystems and became very acquainted with the tropical botany.”

Tropical Agriculture and Missions is one of Au Sable’s best examples of courses designed to make future missions and development workers knowledgeable and effective in contributing to sustainable economies among the people and communities they serve. Special Missionary Earthkeeping Fellowships ($1000) are available for students interested in this course with demonstrated interest in and commitment to work in missions and development.