Walking through a botanical garden in Kolkata, India, I was enthralled by the vibrant and vivid colors of the flowers. For a few hours, I felt like I’d been transported away from the hustle of the city and into a world of beauty. On my way out, I popped into the office to compliment the staff on the good job they do in arranging and caring for the plants.

The director was in that day, and he was happy to share information about the place. I learned that the missionary William Carey started this institution—the oldest of its kind in India—in 1820, with a goal of helping the local people in a practical way. He saw the local farmers using inferior seeds and ineffective farming techniques, and he wanted to improve their livelihoods and help them to realize, as he put it, “the capabilities of the soil to enrich a nation to an almost indefinite extent.”

Carey’s vision was a whole lot greater than just planting and exhibiting pretty flowers. He gathered near-extinct species of plants and nurtured them in the society’s garden so they’d be preserved for the future. He also included maize, cotton, tea, sugar cane, and cinchona1 from various countries and introduced the concept of plantation farming to this part of India. He was successful in imparting this vision to others, and the society he created helped pioneer the introduction of a wide array of cereals, cash crops, fruits, vegetables, and other trees and plants.

I was struck by how Carey’s legacy lives on almost two centuries after he had his initial idea. When he started this garden, it was a completely out-of-the-box concept and it is likely that he faced many challenges and much opposition. Yet, in addition to caring for his ill wife, translating the Bible into several local languages, and trying to abolish the practice of suttee (widow immolation), Carey persevered.

The garden was moved several times, until it was finally established at its present location in 1870. Here, it has survived wars, riots, droughts, and disasters. The vast land area it sits on is now prime real estate in the center of the city, and I’m sure there are quite a few people who would like to see it turned over to more profitable development schemes, but the garden has become a valuable asset for the community, and it is unlikely to be surrendered to greed. To attempt a project like this today in this location would be a monumental—if not impossible—task. It was Carey’s foresight and hard work all those years ago that make it possible for people today to enjoy a little taste of heaven on earth.

It made me realize that what we do now can have a huge impact on the future and the generations to come. Carey’s work on the garden shows what a legacy we can leave behind. He followed his vision, and it has borne much fruit, both literally and figuratively. We sometimes don’t fully appreciate the magnitude of our influence. Every soul we touch or help will have a ripple effect down through the ages into eternity, but it takes breaking the ground and planting that first seed to make a garden.

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Making a Difference

The vocation of every man and woman is to serve other people.

Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910)

“I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people know more …  though I know that is the noblest ambition … but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me … to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.”

Anne Shirley in Anne’s House of Dreams, by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874–1942)

Picture the farmer. He’s finished a difficult year; he’s fretting about the future. Will the coming year’s harvest be any better? No matter his dismay, he can’t just stay in the farmhouse, staring into his tea at the kitchen table. He’s got to think about the future of the farm, about his family.

So he picks himself up. He goes out with trepidation, planting his seeds. Winds will blow, rain will fall, sun will shine. In time, the crops will grow. He’ll come back to the farmhouse a lot happier, with the fruits of the harvest safely in his barn.

If he had not been able to visualize the results, he never would have sown the seeds. If he had never gone out, there would be no harvest. Let’s leave our comfort zone and step out to realize our goals, even when it is difficult. That’s how we’ll make a difference.

Chris Hunt