Mission Pines

by Anne Yelvington Lynch

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    Talk about green thumbs! This family planted trees and harvested missionaries.

    Everybody knows that pine trees come from plain old nuts. And when the Munns family decided to grow pine trees to pay for their missions, some people thought the Munnses were just that—nuts.

    To begin with, April and Ranier Munns of Longwood, Florida, have 13 children. That’s pretty unusual by many people’s standards. Then there was the matter of the big pine tree nursery they started in their backyard. That’s not exactly conventional, either. But then, the Munnses have never been that concerned about what’s conventional.

    What April and Ranier were concerned about was the fact that theirs was a family with great potential for missionary service. They also knew that they could end up with three or four sons on a mission at one time. So during one family meeting, they discussed the possibility of setting up a tree nursery in the three-and-a-half-acre vacant pasture behind the house. It seemed an ideal solution, since they had three or four years to earn the needed money.

    Once they decided on a project, things just started to happen. From a nursery in Sanford that was going out of business they bought, for 50 cents apiece, about 400 slash pines planted in one-gallon buckets. The trees were small, only 12–18 inches tall, but the Munnses knew that with hard work and care, the potential was there.

    Then the family purchased about 5,000 bare root seedlings from the Florida Department of Forestry and bought used three-gallon buckets to plant them in. “We had a family night and got the assembly line started,” Leah says.

    “One person put dirt in the bucket,” Jacob continues, “one person used the planter Grandad made for us to make a hole in the dirt, and another put the seedling in and passed it to the next person who added more dirt and watered the tree.” Then the responsibilities of weeding, fertilizing, and watering the seedlings were assigned and divided among the family members. “All of us worked,” Daniel recalls.

    Ryan remembers, “My friends thought it was a little bit bizarre that we worked so hard to go on a mission instead of applying the money to college or using it for a car. We’d work in the trees in the mornings and get green stains on our hands that we couldn’t get out before class. I remember somebody asking me if I had a disease because of the green stuff on my hands.”

    Eventually they had 6,000 slash pines and 700 oak trees. Jacob reports, “Raising the trees was not easy. Dad would wake us up before school to work an hour before we got ready for classes. And in the afternoons and Saturdays, when the rest of my friends were bowling, fishing, camping or going to movies, parties, and football games, we were picking weeds.”

    Daniel says, “Our friends called our house ‘The Plantation,’ and those who came to stay overnight or for weekends knew we had to get up early on Saturday mornings. But they didn’t mind. Most of them didn’t have chores at their own homes, so they had fun riding the tractor around the nursery, hauling dirt, and filling buckets. They’d move trees and work along with us.

    “Rain or shine, we’d always be down there. We liked working in the rain best because then you didn’t perspire and the weeds were easier to pull. Sometimes when we picked the weeds out of the pots, we’d find surprises. Like huge piles of ants—we’d be working fast and not even looking at our hands and wouldn’t realize until the ants started biting that we were in a fire ant bed. We occasionally found snakes and spiders. Once we caught a six-foot albino rat snake.”

    An opportunity arose for them to sell the trees when they were three to four feet high for seven or eight dollars apiece. But the family decided to continue with the nursery as the boys were not yet old enough for missions. It was at this time that all 6,000 trees were transplanted into 15-gallon containers. That meant handling each tree, one by one, getting the dirt for them, and changing the sprinkler system. In the following two years, the trees grew from four feet tall to between eight and twelve feet tall.

    Despite the hard work, the family recalls the Mission Pines Nursery as a positive experience, and they laugh as they recall the difficult times.

    Collin tells how “one morning Dad said we all had to get up because 75 percent of the trees were on the ground. Some of the rain and winds from Hurricane Andrew had come through during the night. Luckily, slash pines just bend with the wind.”

    But there was as much fun as work. Sometimes they’d take a break from the heat by jumping into the pool or by spraying each other with the hose. And there was still time for high school sports, Scouting, and the boys’ favorite activity of all—fishing. In fact, it was during this time that Collin caught a 250-pound blue marlin.

    During the time of the project, the family also managed to net a new member—both for the family and for the Church. A young man named Rich, who was without family, came to spend the Christmas holidays at Ryan’s invitation. The Munnses shared not only their Christmas presents but the gospel. Rich joined the Church through baptism, and the Munns family through legal adoption. As he helped with the nursery project to help pay for his own future mission, he was also putting down his own roots.

    Finally, the spring arrived when the family contacted potential buyers. Many trees went to Atlanta, Georgia, in preparation for the 1996 Summer Olympics and to the Miami area for reconstruction after Hurricane Andrew. Others were sold to Disneyworld or to the state of Florida. Ranier says, “We had prayed about the trees and taken good care of them. The largest landscaping nursery in Florida, which never bought from other nurseries, came down and looked at our trees. It was the first time they bought directly from another nursery and put their labels on them.”

    The Lord answered their prayers. The Munnses were able to sell, not only the trees, but the mats, the old three-gallon buckets, the stakes, and the bamboo. The only thing left in the pasture was the large patch of brown grass where the trees used to stand.

    If the trees were gone, the family was just beginning to harvest the real results of their efforts—family members leaving to become full-time missionaries. The first was Ryan, now serving in Geneva, Switzerland. “The Mission Pines Nursery gave me a desire to work harder for the money and gave me a focus for my mission,” he says. “I kept thinking, The reason I’m raising these trees and taking care of them is that I’ll have enough money for my mission. It kept me focused and my whole time in high school, I was thinking about serving.”

    Collin was the next to submit his mission papers. But the weekend after he did so, he broke three vertebrae in a snowboarding accident in Idaho and was diagnosed as an incomplete quadriplegic. Now the work ethic he learned in the Mission Pines Nursery helps him in an unexpected way. He currently undergoes physical therapy seven hours a day and is making what his parents and therapists call “miraculous progress.” He intends to get back to 100 percent because a full-time mission is still his priority.

    Rich Munns is now serving in the Washington Tacoma Mission, enjoying not only his mission but the knowledge that he financed it with his own labor.

    Finally, Daniel says, “The Mission Pines Nursery has helped me to learn that success isn’t an overnight thing. This goal we set took over four years to accomplish, and it wasn’t easy. But because I worked so hard on the trees, I believe I will appreciate my mission more. The money will have more significance to me because I worked hard for it. In a few years, when I have a family, I am going to use this same project so that my children can earn the money for their missions.”

    The pasture where the trees grew is empty now. In fact, the Munns family is no longer there, either. Like their trees, they have been transplanted—at least temporarily. Ranier Munns is currently serving as president of the Massachusetts Boston Mission, where the family has found a whole new field to grow in.

    Editor’s note: Author Anne Lynch, a Florida native, teaches English at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah.

    Photography by Jed Clark and Ranier Munns

    Everyone worked—planting, weeding, watering, and fertilizing nearly 7,000 trees. As the trees grew, so did testimonies and self-confidence.

    (Inset) The Munns family (l–r, rear) Jacob, Wayne, Erika, Rich, Daniel; (l–r, middle row) Collin, Dad Ranier, Mom April, Leah, Steven, Vanessa, Ryan; (l–r, front) Kara, Jordan, Shelly. The whole project took a lot of time and effort. But when you see the harvest, you know it was worth the effort.