Picking A Pomegranate

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I have fallen in love with the sweet, juicy pomegranate seeds that not only look lovely piled into a small bowl, but make my morning granola or oatmeal quite scrumptious.  Here at Growing Nations an entire line of pomegranate trees bloom beautifully, making a hedge around the south end of the fields.  The fruits are large and round and ruby red, perfectly ripe for the picking. So I pick at least one a day, and I peel it (a process that several South Africans had to coach me through), and we all enjoy the soft seeds throughout the day. 

The pomegranate (like all fruit) is a miracle.  It is a storehouse of nutrition, antioxidants, and purification.  Not only is it healthy, but its beautiful skin hangs tightly to the branches on one end while the bottom looks more an odd little open mouth with pointy lips slightly parted. And inside the fruit are wonderfully neat sections packed tightly with red fleshy seeds.  The seeds are sweet and very satisfying on a hot day.

In the Bible, pomegranates were used as decorations on the hem of the priestly garments.  And in 1 Samuel we also read that this same fruit adorned Solomon’s temple.  The 12 spies who went into the Promised Land came back giving testimony to the richness laying there: “It has pomegranates!” And later King Saul, too, rested under the shade of this same fruit tree.  

For centuries pomegranates have been sought after for healing properties as well as many uses for the skins (The Romans dried them out like leather.) And today, pom juice is considered one of the key drinks for a healthy detox or for coming out of a fasting period.  

Isn’t it amazing that God has hidden beautiful answers to worldly problems in nature, all around us?  Part of the great mystery of serving the God of the universe is wondering where we will find the next cure, or another source of energy, or a food that can fill our bellies and prolong our lives.  The daily inventions and discoveries that fill our news feeds and wow our minds are almost always rooted in some natural source, some fruit or plant or mineral that God created eons ago.  His provision is all around us, and I believe He takes great delight in our seeking Him. 

We have found Him here: in Lesotho, a small but beautiful country nestled in southern Africa.  We have found Him in the smiling faces of our African classmates; we have found Him in the morning praise songs we share in multiple languages.  We have uncovered mysteries of God around the dinner table as we taste foods from each others’ homeland, on long dusty roads, as we share our stories in cramped vehicles.  His love wakes us up every morning in the shrill song of the hadada bird, an ibis I have learned to appreciate. His love is in bloom- in the wildflowers and the rosehip bushes that guide our paths as we walk from place to place going about our work.  And His love was on full display one particularly colorful evening when a full double-arced rainbow stretched out before us as we sat on our back porch in the breeze.

God is all around you as well, and the scene is breath-taking.  He is creative and artistic; He is bold and He is lovely. I pray that you, like me, have put aside some of your man-made distractions and reached out for beauty of God that He has hidden in plain sight for you.

And if you ever get the chance, pick and peel and eat a pomegranate!

 

Field Work, Field Trips, and Field Day!

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Field work– Using worn out hoes and pitchforks with missing tines, we have hacked our way through the this mountainside dirt to build a garden as well as an extremely tall compost pile. We have gathered hay, scooped barrels full of manure, and battled the mice to collect old corn cobs to create piles for future fertilizer.  Although the tools have been less-than-perfect, the temperatures very hot, and the work at times very stinky- we have thoroughly enjoyed sweating in the sun shoulder to shoulder with our fellow classmates.  Bafiti and Layla seem to take turns providing background music from their phones so when we’re not joking with one another or complaining about the flies, we can hear Botswana radio interspersed with pop-punk hits.  Field work can be fun in community. 

Field trips: We have taken several field trips away from the farm here to see the former students back at home in their fields.  There is a two-fold purpose in these trips: one is for us to see the neatly laid-out farms built on natural resources, beautifully producing much needed vegetables, beans, and grain.  Secondly, we are able to encourage the farms to keep up the hard work in their fields.  Those who use the sustainable practices taught here at Growing Nations often feel alone.  Most of their neighbors continue to over-plow and over-graze the land, so these conservative famers may be mocked in their own communities.  We go to pray with them, to meet  their families, and to encourage them that more Africans are taking on the training and are desiring to preserve the land as well. 

The field trips are fantastic- in a way. The journeys have been long and hard with those pesky, twisty-turny roads that start as pavement then turn to gravel, then to dirt, and finally we are completely off-road driving down narrow paths meant for walking- bouncing over river bottoms, up and down grassy hillsides and sometimes we even jet across broad landscapes of wildflowers where grazing cattle and and the occasional shepherd may greet us.  As we get out and start walking, we are met by school children who follow us to the farms, wishing to hold our hands or snap a selfie with us. They stand with us out of curiosity while we listen to the testimonies of the farmers who meet us in their fields.  I love seeing the Basotho people take great pride in their land as they recount how they are growing enough to feed not only their families, but the local orphanages or schools as well.  It is undeniable that the farming practices we are learning work in the real world too! 

Field Day! Last Friday was very important for this community where we live. The Growing Nations compound hosted a Field Day for all kind of folks to come witness all the projects, educational opportunities and farming techniques that are promoted here.  The grounds were immaculately mowed, tents were erected, and the fields stood tall as if they knew they, too, were on display. Many visitors came to see the farm and the demonstrations, including dignitaries like the minister of Agriculture, as well as former students and local farmers. Near the end of the day, just before we served a very late lunch- there was a time for speeches in which the dignitaries spoke to the people in the Sesotho language. And just before the crowd sang the Lesotho national anthem, it was announced that a special guest would a speak- a bearded man from America who farmed on a large scale. It was Jeff! He then took the stage while the national television camera focused in on him. Using an interpreter, Jeff encouraged the African farmers by saying that conservation agriculture is extremely important world-wide.  He stated that even in America on large-scale farms that practices such as no-till planting, crop rotation, the use of cover crops and integrated pest management were vital to help preserve soil health and minimize environmental impact.  He did a wonderful job encouraging and exhorting the famers for the steps they are taking to help increase Africa’s food production. 

It is a joy to farm beside brothers and sister here in Africa.  Please pray these farming practices will catch on so more producers can help heal Africa’s soils and make strides in restoring health across the land.  

Thank you for your enduring love and prayers as we go into our final week of training here.

 

To Dirt We Shall Return

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A nation that destroys its soils, destroys itself. -Franklin Roosevelt

You and I have rarely thought of soil fertility.  We don’t concern ourselves with micro-bacterial content or fungal root grow that are essential for soil health.  We never worry if our dirt has the proper organic matter, if it’s porous enough for smooth nutrient transport, or safeguarded against wind and rain erosion.  We assume the soil, like the air and water, is in perfect harmony to produce what we need for survival.

One short walk around Lesotho tells a completely different story, even to the untrained eye.  The ground here is riddled with deep gullies and washed out ravines that cut furrows through almost all potential farmland.  And across the landscape cattle, sheep and goats are grazing freely, leaving almost no natural grasses to protect against future erosion.  The land has been stripped of nutrients leaving the exposure of bare rock where there should be farms and fields.  It is hard to feed a nations without fertile soil.  So much of our training is how to restore soil to its God-given health and how to pass this information on to the farmers who live in this land.

I have two teen-age daughters who are also students of FarmQuest 2020.  They have left the comforts of home- television, cell phones, social media, movies, pizza, shopping, hanging out, Netflix, and pop-tarts- all gone, for a solid month, while they sit in classes and work in fields, soaking in farming practices that can help save communities in Africa.  And guess what?  They are amazing! They are shoveling manure for rich compost, clearing rocks from patches of land to help create new gardens. They are putting in holes and raking up hay; they have measured perfect squares for garden sites and searched different soils looking for signs of healthy fungi and root space. They have endured evenings of no power, long church services in another language, crowded rides in vehicles for hours over mountainous roads that twist and turn forever. They help cook meals, clean the kitchen, play card games at night, take long walks by day, and participate and even lead the daily Bible studies. 

God’s call is evident in their lives as it is in ours.  The work here can be frustrating and often seem futile, but when we are moved with God’s compassion, there is no question of personal comfort.  Our time here is so short.  Continue to pray for these last two weeks: that we will fulfill all God has called us to in Lesotho.  And pray specifically for Layla and Charlotte: that this trip will be just the beginning of God’s call on their lives.

 

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The Place of Smoke

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A powerful thunderstorm is brewing in the late afternoon African sky.  All the doors to the house are open, and the sweet, cool breezes are becoming more intense.  There is an occasional flash of lightening.  Bafiti is watching an old VHS tape of a soccer match (football), while Orateng is spreading butter across a slice of homemade bread- a late lunch. Jabulani is listening to music on his headphones, and Jeff is walking around the house, protectively, deciding which doors need to shut and which can remain open.  As you can imagine, Jeff is always securing the house and watching the weather. Although we are 8000 miles away, this afternoon storm feels familiar.  This house feels like “home”, and these other “students” are becoming our family.

We have spent the past three days traveling together to a village far in the heart of the mountains of Lesotho.  The journey was long and twisted, curving up a narrow mountain pass that was riddled with shepherds and school children walking along the shoulders, about their business, scarcely aware of the 4x4s and taxis whizzing the narrow curves around them.   

As wth any road trip, the ten of us truly bonded as we made side stops to buy fresh mountain peaches and hot roasted corn.  (Also, the only potty breaks were found in the high grasses of the mountainside.) We arrived in Semonkong- “The Place of Smoke,” (look it up— it’s AMAZING) and we spent a few days learning from a South African farmer who has developed quite a patch of garden using the sustainable agricultural techniques we are learning.  His cabbages, cauliflower, squash, onions, sunflowers… were all absolutely beautiful.  His farm was nestled between a bubbling brook and a mountain path that had a constant stream of shepherds on horseback wrapped in wool blankets, snaking even further up with their sheep. His farm is a testimony that we can grow an abundant crop using purely sustainable practices.  We got to play in the dirt (and manure) as we helped him build a compost pile from his natural resources.  He will stir this pile diligently for the next six months, and for his new growing season it will be his fertilizer.  

In the evenings we taught our African friends Musical Chairs, Go Fish, and other fun overnight camp games.  Our toilet was just a hole outside, we slept in bunkbeds, and we cooked all our meals together using the few groceries we had packed (eggs, bread, cheese, rice).  We prayed together, held morning devotions together, and really dug into the word of God each afternoon together searching the Scriptures for God’s instructions for farming, His mandates on how we treat the earth, and His purpose for all of creation. On the final morning we took a quick drive further up to see the longest waterfall in the southern hemisphere…. A powerful surge of smoke and water that fell forever into a steep, rocky canyon below.  The morning was a testimony to God with us and around us, his power on full display.  It was a long three days, but wow! What a trip.

We are now back in our village, our “home” and happy to be here! So as I sit in the coolness of this beautiful place, I am so thankful for all of the support back home that has made this possible for us.  You are here with us- you are in our prayers and our thoughts and our stories. We think of you often and we cannot wait to share with you how we see missions carrying on in this corner of the world. All that we are learning and doing is to help spread the kingdom of God in Africa.  Whether through farming or Bible stories or a game of musical chairs, we are asking to be used by Him- we are asking to know Him and to make Him known.

 

Farming God’s Way

Did you know Africa’s land mass is larger than Europe, China, and the U.S.A combined? And did you know that Africa has some of the world’s most precious resources and richest soil?  And did you know that despite this vast wealth hidden throughout the heart of Africa, the people here are known internationally as some of the most impoverished on the whole earth.  Despite the abundant natural resources, Africa, in many places, cannot feed its own people. Although 85% of the people in Africa grow their own food, there are still places where families cannot grow enough to fill their bellies; they go to bed hungry; they are more susceptible to disease; their stomachs protrude; their babies cry.  

The reasons for this travesty may vary, but one truth remains: God is Sovereign and is working to reconcile all His creation.  He is the Hope for Africa, just as He is the Hope for you and me.

So we are here at Farm Quest 2020 to learn, along with some students from several African nations, what are the best farming practices to produce the most food on the smallest amount of ground.  How can a farmer create cost-free fertilizer or minimize soil erosion and nutrient loss?  The ideas are somewhat familiar but somewhat radical too.  The fundamental truth that drives all these farming techniques is found in Scripture: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” Psalm 24:1. 

Understanding that the land  belongs to God and that farmers are simply stewards (lenders) is fundamental to conservation farming. We have spent two days in class laying a Biblical foundation for the farming techniques we are soon to be learning.  As we’ve read Scripture and discussed man’s role in God’s great universe, I have been reminded that God really owns it all.  As Creator and Sustainer of all, He is the Giver of all good gifts. If I have anything whatsoever to my name, it is actually God’s.  

How freeing!  I don’t have to worry about finances or future disaster. I need not concern myself with how much I have or how much I can give.  I can give whatever I have… God is certainly able to give it right back to me. And if He doesn’t I will live daily by His mercy and grace. In the meantime I must ask, “What in the world am I doing with what He has given me?”

Tomorrow we leave on a field trip to go visit a Besotho farmer who is using the Farm Quest techniques.  We will work on his farm a few days and return here on Friday.  Continue to pray for us on this six hour road trip (Remember: I get car sick and these roads are mountainous.) We can’t wait to report back to you what God is doing in this beautiful land.

Landing in Lesotho

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The African sky is immense.  It seems to stretch out forever, with beautiful white pillows of clouds hanging softly above the rocky mountain range that surrounds us.  Our homestead is built on a hillside so our view is of a winding brown river below cutting across a grassy plain.  I see a herder with his cows. He carries a long stick as he leads them down to the river’s edge.  I also see a cluster of school children, all in red and navy uniforms, rambling their way down the winding dusty road after a day of lessons in the village school.  Noises are everywhere- birds that coo and squawk and sing a shrill song, with an undercurrent of the insects’ chirps and the mosquito’s buzz. This is life in Africa; it is raw and untamed and very, very beautiful.

Today, Layla and I were trying to mark a course for a good run, and as we trotted down a slight path, an African wild cat sped right in front of us.  It was marked almost like a cheetah, but smaller in size.  Yet the power in the legs of that cat were undeniable.  It reminded me that we are just a part of God’s creation, the ones destined to sustain and protect all others.  Although the cat filled me with immediate fear, I also felt somewhat blessed to behold it up close.

So, as you can see, we made it to Lesotho and to our little corner in Bethesda Mission.  We have met some of the nationals who work here and soon we will meet the other students who will participate in the agricultural conference with us.  There are two missionary couples here as well who have been gracious to feed us and give us space to orient our bodies to the new night and day. We have been resting in this picture perfect setting and now we are fully ready to start our training on Sunday.

Thank you for the prayers thus far. Our travels were absolutely as smooth as they could possibly be, and I know God was making our path straight as you lifted prayers on our behalf.  The girls are happy and healthy, and like us, ready to get started with training.  

Continue to pray for us… we need it! Thank you tremendously for the time you take to read our journals, lift us up, 

Now Jeff would like to share his “first impressions…”

An afternoon shower waters the earth. A warm humidity fills the air. Africa welcomes us back with it’s majestic beauty. The sights and sounds and smells are all so familiar and yet so distant. 

Foggy heads, churning stomachs, sleepless nights, are accompanied by and in opposition to a great sense of peace. Thank you all for your prayers through our travels. We arrived safely and all survived the flights. It was a journey that is not easy but one that already feels worth it. 

The drip of water into a plastic pan in the middle of the bedroom is a steady reminder of our new surroundings.  Our home for the next month is without doubt utilitarian but that is what we need. The people here are friendly and accommodating. The roads are- well- the roads are there and the traffic must be universally bad across this continent. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. Only our creator could carve such a masterpiece. 

We are excited about the coming weeks as we learn along side others how to be better stewards of the natural resources of this land. We look forward to relationships that will have lasting kingdom impact. We are excited to take with us another tool for the spread of the gospel. 

Thanks again for your prayers and support in this endeavor. Continue to lift us up and the Farming Quest Conference that begins Monday. Growing Nations is doing a great work here equipping people to transform cultures through agriculture and true Gospel. 

Godspeed,

Jeff

 

It Is Time

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“Let him who would move the world first move himself.”  Socrates

Passports? Check.

Vaccinations? Check.

Plane tickets? Check.

Water filters? Check.

Work boots? Check.

Flashlights? Check.

And the list goes on…

For weeks now our days have been consumed with question and answers and crossing off items on those pesky to-do lists!  

“Did you manage to rent us a car in Johannesburg with four wheel drive? Those dirt roads can become impassable.”

“Do you think the girls need steel-toed boots? Surely they won’t be using a machete.”

“Has our South African money come in?  How much is 5000 rands anyway?”

“Wonder if our phones will work on that 2G network?”

It’s funny that our family will only be gone for one month, but travel into a third world country is no easy task. If any detail is overlooked chances are we could get stuck with no way of getting the items we may need.  However, at the end of each Q & A session, Jeff and I seem to agree- an adventurous spirit, a willing heart, a desire to serve, and the humility to become learners will probably go a long way toward our success on this venture.

We will be flying out on February 18 to Lesotho (pronounced le-soo-too) located within the borders of South Africa.  Although we have lived in Uganda, this nation is unlike any place we have ever visited. (It’s actually 2700 miles from Uganda, full of its own customs, languages, tribes and peoples.) It will be summer when we arrive, but due to the high altitude (we will be living at over 5000 ft. elevation) the temperatures through the day will be pleasant (70s) and cooler at night (50s).  

We have registered to attend an agricultural conference in which the four of us will be students alongside African nationals and other missionaries, learning best practices for sustainable agriculture in Africa. The lessons will be coupled with Bible studies as well.  Our hope is to drink it all in and then to someday venture out into even more rural villages to teach both the farming practices and the Bible truths simultaneously. Our conference will last three weeks and then we will have a few days to get to know the nationals, visit local villages, spend time with other missionaries, and attend local church services.  We have also carved out the last three days to visit a Safari park in South Africa.  

I am certain this will be an eye-opening, life-changing experience for both me and Jeff and of course, our daughters. We plan to close our schoolbooks for a month (good-bye Greek tragedies and sentence diagramming) and let the wonderful world of Africa be our teacher. While we are so blessed to have this opportunity unfold before us, please consider uniting with us in prayer.  I have a truly adventurous personality, but I wouldn’t dare travel into this spiritually unprepared. If you will partner with us in prayer we would greatly appreciate it!

  • Smooth travel- Okay— so this journey is a doozy! Just getting to Lesotho will be a pretty big undertaking.  We will fly Memphis to Atlanta on February 18 and then board a huge Boeing 777 for a 16 hour non-stop flight to Johannesburg.  Please pray for Jeff who has a touch of claustrophobia and cannot sit for longer than a movie.  Pray for me because I get motion-sickness, even on simple car rides.  Pray for our daughters, that the screen time will work its magic and they will never even notice a full day has passed.
  • Jet lag- With the 8 hour time difference and a day lost on a plane, we will undoubtedly land with our heads in la la land. Pray that we can rest at the appropriate times and quickly adjust to our new night and day.
  • The second plane- After Johannesburg, we will board a tiny plan for the last leg of our trip to Lesotho,  approximately a one hour flight.  Since taking off and landing make me the most motion sick, this is actually the flight I am more worried about! It’s nothing but a long take off and landing!
  • The car ride- After landing in Lesotho we will be picked up by a missionary who will drive us through a 2 1/2 hour, wild, unpaved, mountainous, treacherous trek to our conference.  (Did I mention I get car sick?)

Honestly, these are our greatest prayer needs at this time.  Once we are in country and at the conference we will be able to share with you about the accommodations, the people, the land around us, and any other needs we see.  Ultimately, this trip is not about us— it’s about spreading God’s kingdom and giving Him glory at every twist and turn.  We want to draw near to Him and let His love and light flow through us.

We do covet your prayers in that as well: may the King of our hearts be made known in and through us.  May we find Him ever faithful in all corners of the earth.  Thank you from our very hearts to yours for taking this journey with us.