The Rochester Seventh-day Adventist Church has several thriving programs that exemplify serving Jesus to the Rochester community. Two of their active programs are their community garden and behind bars ministry.

Back to Eden Garden

In the heart of Rochester, a group of dedicated members has established a remarkable community garden known as the Back to Eden Garden. The Back to Eden Garden serves as a beautiful spot in the community, cultivating both the land and the hearts of those involved. With a mission to provide healthy food to community members, especially those residing in poorer areas, this garden has flourished over the past seven years. Adopted by the prestigious University of Minnesota Master Garden Program, the Back to Eden Garden has become a symbol of unity, nourishment and outreach. Led by passionate gardeners April Dietel, Jose Cruz, and his wife, Melina Nunez Garcia, this community initiative has transformed a public property in the Southeast part of Rochester into a thriving source of fresh produce and community

The public property tended by the church serves as an ideal location for the garden, attracting passersby with its appealing sign, fence and well-tended plants. Community members are encouraged to take ownership of their sections of the garden.

The inception of the Back to Eden Garden was prompted by a request from the community itself, following a successful branch Sabbath school conducted by the Rochester Church. Recognizing the potential for positive impact, the church embarked on this gardening initiative and guided residents of the nearby mobile home community to learn to garden their own individual plots. The church supports the garden’s upkeep by providing necessary resources such as fencing, water tanks, and even plants. At the beginning of each year, a planting party is organized to teach families the proper techniques and locations for planting. To ensure commitment and accountability, interested families must fill out an application/commitment form, pledging to maintain their assigned plots.

The Back to Eden Garden not only nourishes bodies but also enriches minds and spirits. Twice a month, local master gardeners generously contribute their expertise by conducting informative sessions. These talks cover various gardening topics, offering valuable knowledge to the families involved. The church further complements these sessions with spiritual discussions, fostering a holistic approach to community well-being. It is heartening to witness the majority of participating families attending these sessions, demonstrating their enthusiasm and commitment.

In addition, in partnership with the Minnesota State Horticulture Society, the Rochester Church acts as a liaison for the “Garden in a Box” program. This initiative provides pre-packaged garden kits to families in the community, offering everything necessary for successful gardening on a smaller scale, including plants, soil and other supplies. The church has successfully distributed these kits to 10 deserving families, allowing them to embark on their gardening journey with confidence and support.

The Back to Eden Garden has created a tight-knit community of approximately 15 families who actively participate in the garden. The garden plots are currently at full capacity, exemplifying the enthusiasm and popularity of this initiative. In addition to individual plots, a community section is dedicated to growing sweet corn, freely available for anyone to pick. The church takes responsibility for maintaining this plot and even covers the cost of water provided by the city. Furthermore, a well-managed compost pile adds to the garden’s sustainability and environmental impact.

Behind Bars

Another mission of the Rochester Church is Christmas in July behind bars. With Christmas and the Fourth of July traditionally celebrated with family and friends, the Rochester Church family has found a unique way to extend the spirit of giving and hope to those behind bars during this festive time. Through their annual “Christmas in July” initiative, the church’s Pathfinders and church members (a group of around 50) come together to decorate and fill paper lunch bags for the local Adult Detention Center. Later, during another church activity, these bags are filled with snacks, treats, and a letter of hope from the pastor, accompanied by inspirational literature such as Steps to Christ. The church generously donates the items needed for this endeavor, and a select group of church members and the pastor personally distribute the bags to the prisoners, establishing a direct connection between the church and incarcerated individuals.

The impact of the church’s thoughtfulness is profound. Many prisoners express their gratitude, touched and amazed by the compassion shown. The Rochester Adventist Church has fostered a positive relationship not only with the local sheriff’s office but also with the Adult Detention Center. The genuine care and generosity exhibited by the church community have left a lasting impression on both the inmates and the prison staff.

Beyond the “Christmas in July” initiative, the Rochester Church maintains an ongoing presence at the Adult Detention Center. Every week, the church organizes separate Bible study sessions for men and women, offering spiritual guidance and support to the inmates. These sessions provide a safe and nurturing environment for participants to explore their faith, find solace and develop a sense of community within the prison walls.  In addition, they also host quarterly health classes for inmates.

Remarkably, the positive influence of the church’s engagement in the Federal Medical Prison has resulted in a profound moment of spiritual transformation. The church community celebrated a baptism, marking a significant milestone in an individual’s spiritual journey. Such an occurrence highlights the transformative power of faith and the role that the Rochester Church plays in nurturing and supporting individuals throughout their incarceration.