Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Farmer Went Out to Sow

A few days ago I was out with the men in the field.  Six men were bantering and working in such unity. Pick-axes and hoes swung as if they were tied together in one motion.  It reminded me of the old chain-gangs.  Yes, Lord, make us prisoners of your love! We were building up the windrows, ramps as they call them here, and cutting out the canals where the water would flow.
In the field next to us was another farmer and his men, throwing the seed the old-fashioned way by broadcasting.  It's a controlled toss, if you will, followed by a kind of Texas two-step shuffle of the feet as they walk over the kernels of corn.  The ground is left flat and natural, only broken by the oxen and the plow.
Visually before my eyes there was playing out before me the real-life illustration of the Parable of the Seeds.    
I imagined Jesus watching the same leathery-faced men, worn from years of baking in the hot sun, how He might have by the same manner taken interest in the way they carried out their work.  I can see the words forming on His lips, a little smile forming at the corners..."A farmer went out to sow his field..."

Just before mid-day these two bands of merry men crossed paths, their workers in their field, and our men in ours.   Their field was almost finished, and we'd only planted a very small section, about 200 corn. 
Invariably, the ribbing and razzing began.  What are you planting?  Corn!!  Why are you planting it like that?!  Who would ever just plant one seed?  Ahh Whites! Don't you know anything?  What a waste of time...
"As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up."
Yet our guys held their ground and continued working.  I wondered how often they are discouraged, taunted or mocked for working with me.  Almost every day?  I try to embrace the culture and not insert my methods at every turn, but working a field the way we are is a challenge.
There is measuring to do, certain principles to hold, a calculated distance, a controlled depth. By hand we break up the hard clods of dirt and fluff the soil asunder... It requires true care.  

Soon the men in the other field had completed their work and each man went his own way.  I looked at their finished ground, even a little discouraged myself.  They had used 5 times the seeds we had, but the work was done.  Some would come, some wouldn't.  They didn't really care.  It was hot. It was beer-thirty.
"Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root."
By the end of the day, a full 8 hours of work had yielded 400 kernels of corn in the ground.   The men went home, content, happy, at ease with one another, and I walked back to the house.  
I sent a message to my cousin Nic, a farmer in the States.  "How long would it take you to prepare the ground and plant 400 corn?"  I asked, a little curious even though I knew I probably didn't want to know. 
"2 minutes to prepare the ground, 5 minutes to sow, and I couldn't even spray it because the field is too small."   He replied.'s always humbling to be humbled.  

But then when I told the news to Kari she said something that I felt in my heart to be truth.
"Yes, but you're planting a different kind of seed."  
She nailed it.  The truth is, it makes no difference to me how much corn or tomatoes or cabbage or peppers come up.   There are six souls in that field, and for that seed to raise we have to take the time, the measure, the control.  We have to do life.
I think of the discipleship that I've seen and been party to in America.  A cup of coffee one day a week.  Small chat, some good advice, alot of opinion, a hiccup of prayer and a dash of God's word.   Then I imagine that happening all over my country, this hit-and-run discipleship, that really says in the heart, 'Hey, yeah I'm supposed to care about you and I do, but I really gotta run.  I have so many irons in the fire, I'm too busy to really love you.  As for doing life together, this will have to pass.'  And then we wonder, 'Where have all of the men gone?'
"Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants."   I remember being choked.   I remember doing some of the choking. I've been pure insecticide to some of my Christian brothers and sisters.

For every day we've planted, God has brought the rain.  The men who work with me sing praises of God's benediction, His agreement with what is happening in the fields of the heart.   The old-timers in Haiti say they can't remember rain like this in January.  It's the dry season, and it makes no sense at all.
Yet I watched as the sky turned again dark and threatening, the wind picked up, and the temperature dropped.   A big rain came, hard and fast.  On and on it lasted.  Harder and harder.   I filled up 25 gallons in only a few minutes, and so much time passed there was nothing to do but sit and spin away with stories.  One man even fell asleep.  Finally when the rains finished and the clouds broke, we stepped back out into the field to survey the damage.  

The windrows and canals had done their jobs beautifully!   Almost the entire crop and all the seeds were still well above the water line, being wicked away by the torrents of little rivers that the canals had created.  
The plants actually looked happy, refreshed from the broken heat and sun.   The men were smiling and again talking about the benediction of God.   
The field next to ours sat under the water, drowned by the deluge.  The work had been accomplished quickly, but inefficiently.  It had been covered, checked off the list, but forgotten.  There was none who even came to check on the condition of the ground.
I walked back to the house with a new encouragement stirring in my heart. 
Today during the morning devotions one of my men began to break down.  He couldn't hold back the tears that are so severely despised here among men, and the dam of his heart broke open.   God is working, so deep.   I pray He works more and more. 
"Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
He who has ears, let him hear."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Until we Meet Again, Jean Denis

Yesterday I held an old woman in my arms while her heart ripped and broke over the unexpected death of her daughter.   The people in my village tied rags around her arms so we could keep ahold of her.   Her grandchildren felt such shredded agony that they tried several times to run into the road to die, hoping to be struck by traffic.   They couldn’t bear the thought of living without their momma.  My eyes were so heavy to see one of the girls just coming home from school, still in her uniform as she heard the news that her mother was gone.  She fell faint into the arms of her friends and family.    Kari helped as best she could to calm the daughters, and I asked Pastor Pompee if any were Christians. “None of them are.” he said, and the hopelessness in their mourning was dank and harsh.  
“We can still pray for them.” I said. 
“Yes!” He said.  They seemed so lost in a sea of burden.  All I could pray was the most simple request…Lord, please, come here.  Please come here. Bring your peace that passes understanding, rain down on us here, Please!  

Then today I stepped into a church of wailing women and came to the open casket of my friend and brother, Jean Denis, a pastor and leader in his community who also died unexpectedly after complications from a motorcycle accident. 
He was one of the most gentle men I’ve ever known.  I took my first communion in Haiti at his church, and gave many messages from his pulpit.
Once while I was visiting his church, a singing group of men came and performed.  They were all dressed in the latest fashion, singing the newest worship song. They had the shiniest shoes and the best haircuts, and while their performance was gifted and laced with talent, it was painfully obvious that they were only singing for the praise and applause of the people.  And how the people did clap, in total fascination of these young heart-throbs!   
But then Jean Denis stood up, and this sage of a man quietly lifted his face to heaven.  His arms raised high and his hands stretched as if he was trying to caress the very face of Christ, and immediately I knew that this pastor was in the hands of the Living God.   
From his little church, nestled into the corner of a sleepy fishing village by the sea, he began to sing, alone and with confidence, and his voice filled every nook and cranny.  Every brick resounded with glory as the most simple words came from his mouth.   I watched a real shepherd, bringing the eyes of his sheep back to their Father.  I watched him humbly teach them a valuable life lesson as he led by example.
“I adore you.  I adore you.  I adore you Jesus.”    
That was all he sang, and I remember thinking to myself, This man is madly in love with Jesus. 

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will find rest in the shadow of The Almighty…”

There are a dozen villages in Southern Haiti that owe their thanks to this man.  It’s because of him they have Bibles.  Denis was one of two pastors that worked with me regularly in the first year, giving over 1100 Bibles by hand, up and down the peninsula.  

One woman today told me through her tears, 
“I couldn’t read, so he read the Bible to me.  I couldn’t sing, so he taught me the songs from the song books.”  
That is a true teacher. One who is willing to pick up the sheep and drape them around his neck, keep them warm and go the extra mile when they can’t make it on their own.  Jean Denis took the extra time to make sure his church had a firm understanding of Jesus.
Every time I saw him, it was as if he hadn't seen me in a hundred years.  His warmth will be certainly missed in my heart, but I still have a hope…  I know I will see him again, and today I know he is singing those same words of adoration, with eyes feasting on the Lord.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Garden of God's Glory

Last week we had three men from America who came to visit, to audit, and to encourage our family in Haiti.   We made no plans, only for them to come and see, and then for us to be available and obedient to the orchestra of the Lord.  His composition is so intricate that I'm compelled to simply try to follow along and keep up, and what a symphony it is!
It was a time of great blessing.
Like salve to the spirit, the men prayed with us, laughed with us, worked with us, and did life with us.
They served in humility and with respect, and they brought truth and sweet fellowship into the fields of Haiti, swinging pick-axes and hoes alongside the Haitian men in the hot sun.

Through their joy and their desire to serve they became living, breathing examples of God's law and His Word.  They were in effect living Bibles, and I watched as God did what God does best, breaking new ground in the hearts of my Haitian neighbors as they witnessed the Word coming to life through my brothers.  I saw God's ways worked out in living illustration, and it brings a fresh perspective to me as I reflect and consider the Psalmists description of the precepts of the Lord.
"...They are more precious, even more than gold, sweeter than the honey from the comb."
There was plenty of hard work and heat, but through the week there was a bond being forged between the Haitians and Americans yoked together in the field.  By the last day the men were all singing together as axes and shovels and hoes arched with the sun across the sky.   The hours ebbed and slipped away while a sweet peace began to cultivate in the heart of every soul!

 The time eventually came, and before the break of dawn we said our goodbyes.  My Christian brothers left on a bus bound for the city, and my day began once again with my Haitian brothers, out in the field. I could see them waiting for me in the circle of trees where we've built the benches.  Every morning before the work starts, there are devotions.  We read from the Bible, talk about any matters of the heart, and then we pray.  Afterward we lay out the plan for the day and then boots step out into the field to labor and chip away at hard earth. 
The men were already gathered.

Using rocks, Pastor Pompee last week felt persuaded by the Spirit to name our gardens.  Entering into the first gate there is a simple salutation written in a bed of stone on the ground, "Welcome to the Garden of God's Glory."
As I passed by it, this time without my American brothers, I felt a twinge.  A little deflated in my sails, yet encouraged by the sweetness of the time spent with them,  I knew it was my mission to carry on and continue the work.   This is the Garden of God's Glory... What might you bring this morning, Lord?  
I knew the men would feel the same way, a little down and saddened at the gaping hole my brothers had left in their absence.  
Pastor Pompee began to read from Scripture, and I noted shoulders... a little droopy.  I caught a sigh, a shrug, but then the Word began to seep into the dry places, and I saw hope filling, hearts inflating.
Ahhhhhhh, here is the Lord, and He's filling in the holes, replacing what was emptied with His enduring goodness.  

Pompee continued in Matthew 13... a parable from the lips of Jesus...
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."
A word came running into my thoughts like a flash of lightning breaking across a darkened, stormy sky.   I swung on my heels for the house to grab a bag and some money.   I couldn't enter into our beautiful home with my muddy boots, not if I valued my life, so Kari got it for me.  She gave me a look that I've seen many times before, a look that says, "What in the world are you up to now?"
"Trust me." I said.   "This is gonna be awesome, it's the Parable of the Hidden Treasure!" I yelled as I went running for the field.    I caught a glimpse of her smile as I rounded the corner and sprinted down the path to where the men were just finishing up.
I passed them in a flash and stepped out into the new field where we've just cracked and plowed the ground with the oxen.   I walked here and there, covertly.  I stopped now and then, knelt down, picked up some things and hid the money before returning to the circle where the men were waiting.   I could see they were very confused by the crazy irregularity of my actions, but I also know they've come to expect a little weirdness from me.
I was out of breath, so I just threw down everything I was carrying at their feet.
"You can find just about anything out in those fields, can't you?" I smiled.   These men are farmers.  They all smiled too.
"Here's a piece of rope, a rock, some garbage, a plastic bottle, and a branch.  Plenty of worthless things.  Ordinary, bland, nothing special as you labor in the hot sun...But imagine if you stumbled upon some treasure!  Wow!   What might you do?  Do you see the picture that Jesus is painting?  You'd cover it up and walk directly to your house.  The hoe would still be standing in the field.   You'd forget to bring it in.  You'd quietly round up anything of value and you'd start selling it to anyone willing to buy.  You're gonna buy that field.  It isn't yours now, but it will be, and once the paper is signed, everything is yours! How suspicious might your neighbors become as you tried with your best poker face to sell everything? Ha!
Imagine it! "Yes, I um... ahem.....I've decided it's time to buy that field out behind my house....ahem...alot of work there you know....ahem...gonna plant a crop...I know it's expensive....How much?!  You think I'm rich! he-he.....ahem.... I mean, I'll take's the money, just sign right there (as you try not to jump up and down)........yes, just sign, right.....THERE!   WOOO-HOOOO!!!!!!"

The men were laughing as I illustrated my story, jumping up and down.  They are such a story-telling people.  This is the way they love to learn.  

"Yesterday I heard you all laughing while you worked with my American friends.  Then I heard you singing together.  There was joy.  Real joy, and by the face of some of you men I could see you've never experienced that kind of peace in the field."
They nodded their heads in agreement.  We all knew it to be true.  
"Yesterday I think you discovered something.  Treasure in the field!  You felt it in your hearts, and it comes from God."  
There were smiles and hope all around me.  God's seed had dropped into the cracked earth as softened hearts of hardened men received His message.   But I still wanted them to seek and hunt and search.

"Today I've hidden some treasure in the field.  Maybe you'll find it.  Maybe you won't.  You'll have to seek it.  You'll find some things that are worthless, but someone just might discover it!  I only ask that when you see a man has found it, when you see him jumping up and down, encourage him and be glad for him.  Don't knock him down, don't be jealous.   When you see the joy in his face, you'll see what Jesus was trying to tell us.  You'll will understand."

We prayed and started to break up for our work.  The men were all happy, but I was curious because none were as excited as I thought they might be.  At just that moment another man came strolling in late. There's a standing rule we've made, the men who are on time have to explain and catch up the man who is late. They don't yet enjoy it, but it's good practice and it will become a habit. 
"Edain!  You're late!" I barked. He jumped.  "Because you're late, you don't know, you haven't heard the good news!  That's so sad! Good thing you have brothers. Who is going to tell Edain the good news?" I said. 
One of the men started in, and word for word explained absolutely everything I had shared, right down to the reason for the rope and garbage and the things I'd found in the field....all except the part about the treasure I'd hidden.   They were all just about to break up again for work when I stopped them.
"Wait a minute!" I said. "Why didn't you tell him about the treasure I hid in the field?"
Every man froze.
Heels whirled and men spun back in my direction.
"Hold on!  You mean, you actually hid some treasure in the field?!" One man said.   
Every eye was wide.  Mouths were falling open.   Muscles were stiffening, some were holding their breath.
That's when it dawned on me.  They thought I was only speaking in a metaphor!  
"Yes! I hid some treasure in that field.  A little gift from me to you."

Out into the field they went with a bounce in their step, hope filled and ready, and the dirt began to fly.
One man, Pierre, stayed behind to build a nursery for some new seeds, and he was content not to search for the treasure.   He'd already made plans for his work and he wasn't going to let that get in the way. He's also the only Christian among the workers so far. He's already found his treasure.  I respected that.   

Late in the day, in the throws of hard work and exhaustion, one of the men finally stumbled upon the treasure.  It was Edain, the man who'd come to work late!   How fitting for God to put icing on the cake and make the story sink deeper into hearts.   The men were all telling me of his joy when he discovered it.   Some laughed about his expression.  Others told me how one man even dropped to his knees and sincerely lifted up his hands to heaven, a man who is just now coming into an understanding of God.
But then God did something even more grand.   He wanted to add an exclamation mark instead of a period.  He wanted to drive home His lesson, and so he pricked the heart of Edain.  
"I'm sharing my treasure with every man here!" He proclaimed.   "I want all of you to have some!"
And instantly everyone felt in their heart something that could never be quite fully explained.  
Every man had hope.  Every man had joy.  Every man was invited in and included in something bigger than themselves. Every man, you might say, took communion in the glory of God and His ways. 
Yes, Lord.  You are so awesome to me.  I will never comprehend Your beauty.  I will never understand Your majesty or Your love. But I will share it with any who will listen!  
Ahhhhhh!   The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, and we've found it in "The Garden of God's Glory."