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Published on 27 January, 2011

Horticulture program encourages spiritual growth

USA (MNN) — The first man on earth was given one job: to tend a garden.

Ever since Adam walked the earth, there's been something simple and spiritual about a garden. Today, Shepherds College is harnessing the spiritual and healing effects of a garden to nurture students with intellectual disabilities.

As part of the Shepherds Ministries belief that everyone is "designed by God on purpose and for a purpose," the horticulture program teaches its students "the distinct skills to grow things well and to meet customer's needs."

The horticulture program is more than learning a trade, though. Horticulture students are given the opportunity to grow with God in a unique way.

The spiritual gardens throughout the Shepherds campus provide spots for meditation and healing. "[A spiritual garden] is a plant-dominated environment where it's used as a retreat, either by students or by residents that live at Shepherds Ministries," explains Lead Horticulture Studies instructor Leslie Leith. "It's more of a one-on-one commune with God and learning about Him. It's your prayer and meditation time when you're in nature."

As students explore Christ and the Bible with LifeCoaches and through chapel, the gardens give them the opportunity to soak it in, meditate on God and what they've learned, and become stronger witnesses.

Leith gives one example of the gardens' calming effects: "If [students] are feeling very stressed, like if we have finals coming up, what are some different ways that they can, on their own, try to refocus and not feel stressful? And that could be just going out and sitting on one of the benches in one of the garden areas and taking time to pray and focus."

Students are provided with a firm foundation for their faith by learning to quietly retreat with God, surrounded by His creation. This not only affirms the Gospel in the students' lives, but prepares them to be Christ's ambassadors when they enter the work force after college.

Future projects will include more inspirational pieces within the garden, and a labyrinth to aid in meditation.

Shepherds College is a three-year, post-secondary educational program for young adults with intellectual disabilities. Currently, students can study horticulture or culinary arts. To learn more about Shepherds College, visit shepherdscollege.org.

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