Over the years, I’ve grown to love Aspen trees. They’re not that common in Illinois, growing in only about a third of the state’s counties, mostly in the north. But in cooler or higher-altitude climates such as central Colorado, they grow abundantly, often covering the mountains like wildflowers.
It was while vacationing there with my family this summer that I started asking myself why I find Aspen trees so beautiful and interesting. Is it the “quaking” leaves, which so freely alternate their green and silver sides in the breeze, and then turn bright yellow in the fall? Or is it that those leaves are mounted on a beautiful white tree trunk, crisscrossed with black bands, that grow up to a hundred feet tall?
Perhaps it’s that these striking trees always appear so plentifully. Aspens grow in clusters or “stands” and multiply rapidly. Individual trees are actually part of a larger, singular organism that spreads rapidly in the form of new trees from a common root system.
As a result, one Aspen stand in Utah is considered by many to be the world’s oldest living organism. It’s more ancient than the massive Sequoias of the West, or even the famous Bristlecone Pines, some of which are said to be 5,000 years old. It appears that individual trees like those are not quite as enduring as the spreading organism of Aspens, which presents itself as many trees, yet underneath shares a unified root system that results in each unique tree being a genetic replicate of the others.
As you might guess, I find in these beautiful Aspen trees an encouraging metaphor for the equally creative work I believe God desires to do among Baptist churches here in Illinois. Like the diversely colored leaves that “quake” at the slightest breeze, our lives, stirred and filled by the Holy Spirit, should attract the attention of those we meet and invite them to know Jesus as Savior.
The bright, white-and-black banded trunk that holds us together is the local church that beautifully reflects the light of Christ and his word, not just one at a time, but in diverse sizes and shapes. Yet our churches should be united by a common root system of both doctrine and cooperation, one that makes us resilient and also allows us to multiply rapidly and spread throughout our region and the world. Aspens are the most widespread tree in North America, and there are varieties of Aspens found throughout Europe and Asia.
This year, September 10-17 is the week our “stand” of churches here in Illinois has set aside to pray for mission work here, and to receive a special offering called the Mission Illinois Offering. This offering is like a refreshing rainfall on our cooperative work as Baptist churches, work that takes place in a culture that can be as harsh on Baptist churches as mountain winters on a stand of Aspens.
But with that offering, we train leaders and church members in evangelism. We strengthen churches in multiple ministries that help them make more disciples and grow. And we provide the network of doctrinally sound cooperation that gives you confidence that the 20 or so churches being started in Illinois each year, though unique, are doctrinally united with all the churches in our “stand.”
Aspens grow all the time, even in winter. But many feel they are most brilliant and beautiful in the fall, when their golden leaves paint the mountainside with the glory of God. This fall, when you and I give a generous offering through the Mission Illinois Offering, I believe we have an opportunity to do the same.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.