Sweat of the Brow
The air smells like soil and sweat
from the African’s rounded brow.
Dusty feet knead the rich earth,
We are going to plant beans here,
Milly tells me. The weeds are eye-high.
The hoes harden our hands,
we till the soil ’til it’s soft.
I want to feel the African dirt underfoot
and bury bean seeds in the ground.
Soil becomes a part of our skin,
we carry the hoes like crosses,
arms draped over each end,
we are walking like we are dead.
A stick cracks over the cow’s back.
Burnt earth buckles under the plow,
as it breaks through the roots
they sound like fabric ripping.
The Acholi voice is like the breath
in the shade of the shea-nut trees,
or the hum of wind in blades of maize,
my words match their rhythm––yat, lum.
I see the majesty of God in you.
When they open their mouths to sing
smoke rises in shafts of light.
When I first came to Abaana’s Hope for my seven-week internship, I prayed that He would show me how to truly come alongside the Acholi people. I wanted to know the people––just as Jesus took on flesh, assumed the form of a slave, and humbled himself to the point of death on a cross (Phil 2:7-8). God led me to the farm, or as the Acholi people call it: “digging in the garden.” I have walked the rutted fields with them. I have tasted cassava fresh from the ground, as a snack break during our work. I have shouldered the hoe and blistered my hands. I have worked through the rain and the heat with them.
I say this with humility and gratitude to God. It is a blessing to come alongside this group of farmers. He has sustained me to stay with them despite the physical labor. I also thank Him for my friend Milly, one of the farm workers. She has a thirst to understand the Word and I have shared Scripture verses with her over meals of beans and posho. I do my best to explain it, even though her English is limited.
He has given me the privilege to become an Acholi to win the Acholi for Christ. Like Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some” (HCSB). Part of Paul’s ministry in different cultures involved sharing life with the people he was witnessing to. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 also talks about this: “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us” (HCSB). I shared this verse with Milly the other day, telling her, “This is why I am on the farm.”
There’s no place I’d rather be in Uganda.
But I must speak the gospel.
If we stop with becoming all things to all people, it’s empty. Just as the word of creation that goes out into all the earth and leaves men without excuse is not enough to bring the nations to salvation in Christ, also our wordless witness it not enough (Psalm 19:4 and Romans 1:20). We must verbally speak the gospel. Our gospel is a gospel of words.
Living alongside those you are witnessing to authenticates our witness. Paul says that he makes the effort to become like people only for the sake of the gospel. 1 Corinthians 9:23: “Now I do all of this because of the gospel that I may become a partner of its benefits” (HCSB). I have to remind myself of this, when I’m out in the fields, and the heat of rainy season lulls us all into a stupor. The Word burns within me, but I struggle with boldness. Often I hesitate to speak because I do not want to impose too much, but sharing the gospel is the greatest act of love. The language barrier makes it difficult to share, since most of them speak little to no English.
- Mack Stiles writes in Marks of a Messenger, “Caring for others represents the gospel, it upholds the gospel, it points to the gospel, it’s an implication of the gospel, but it is not the gospel, and it is not equal to the gospel” (69). I would say the same thing for the farm. I do want to love the farmers and share life with them. But I would do them a great injustice to spend hours in the fields, digging in the bean field, weeding in the maize and cassava fields, without speaking the Word of the gospel with them. And thankfully, God has provided a few opportunities.
It is humbling to come under the gospel. The Word is enough to speak to Milly and teach her. All I do is copy verses from the Acholi translation on my phone and bring them to her. I depend entirely on the Word for our fellowship and discipleship. The Word is powerful across language barriers; after all, the gospel is God’s power for salvation (Romans 1:16). I led a devotional for the group of women and children at the women’s refuge center. There was no place for pride, in that dim ot lum, with the gazes of women and children locked on me, eager for the living water. One of the ladies said, as we asked for prayer requests, shared a praise to God that they would be able to listen to the Word of God. They were not there to hear me speak, or hear well-spoken and persuasive stories. They were there just for the Word. I was honored to share it.
Sometimes we get to break up the ground. Sometimes we get to press the seeds into the soil. Sometimes, if it’s the right season, we get to reap. All we can do is keep working the soil like a humble farmer, and speaking the gospel, day in and day out.