I t has been said that Madagascar eats more rice per capita than nearly anywhere else in the world. It doesn’t take a person long to see that life in this country revolves around rice. Here, people spend half the year in their rice fields, and the work doesn’t stop there.
All throughout the year there’s rice, rice, rice, everywhere you look! One is drying it. Others are pounding it. And even more are cleaning, cooking and eating it. Sitting with some friends in their rice field, they enthusiastically expressed to me how you can give Malagasy a feast of all kinds of food, but if there’s no rice they wouldn’t be full and satisfied. When in fact all the other food could make them full, they said it’s the rice that makes them strong. Another friend told me frankly: “Human beings need rice.”
It’s harvest time now. People are spending most of their time in the fields and it’s understandably the main topic of conversation. My time spent with them, planting and harvesting, talking and observing every step of the way has had me thinking a lot about sowing seeds.
From the moment they put seeds in the ground, either by scattering them widely or by stabbing small holes in the soil to drop the seeds into, birds are a problem. Eventually, as the rice plants grow higher and rice grains start to form, the people have to build a small wooden platform that allows them to sit higher and see further. Then it’s usually a boy’s job to sit on the platform and watch for birds. As he sees one approaching, he globs some mud on a stick and swings the mudball at the intruder, with quite good aim. Then the beautiful red little “fodys” soar off into the air, foiled from eating their favorite meal: fresh rice.
They’re not the only ones that find rice appealing to eat. Every year cows break through fences and ravage the rice, eating what they can and stomping down and breaking any plants that are in their path. There’s nothing worse for a rice field than a herd invading.
The same goes for goats, who are always looking for weak spots in the fence in which to squeeze through. It’s always wise to send someone to walk the perimeter of the field, take note of any part of the fence that needs repair and to chase off any goats waiting on the other side. Better to discourage those goats early, before they get their hopes of fresh rice up too high. The people often talk to others nearby to let them know where they’ve recently seen goats so they too can be on the lookout. Some even stay in their fields at night to be ready for any invasion.
A s we spend time and interact with the people here, we’ve taken the opportunities God has given us to share Christ, who he is and the amazing things he’s done. Many people have heard bits and pieces about the wonder of who Jesus is and what he wants to do for them. We’ve been sowing seeds faithfully, but it seems that’s as far as we’ve come.
I can’t help but be reminded that this is a battle. As Paul said,
L ike our friends in the fields we must always be alert and ready, mud sticks in hand, for what might devour what we’ve sown. We must always keep watch and reinforce any weak parts of the fence. And like them, we must fight this battle together. One man can’t simultaneously be sowing and working the soil while tossing mud at birds, checking the fences, and chasing goats. No, each person down to the smallest child has a task to do, so that together they will reap the harvest.
And so it is with the church, the body of Christ. Each part working together has a function, united in one purpose to see his kingdom come here on earth.
Yet too often we forget this. We focus on our own functions and purposes, our good works for the Lord, and we forget to work together for his purpose. Instead we’re like people working in a field where some on one end are just finishing putting up the fence, while their back is turned to others on the far end who are tearing the fence down. Too often the example we’ve been to the world is one of brokenness, petty disagreements, and strife. We get distracted, while the evil one comes in and snatches all that we’ve sown.
Just think of how much more of the kingdom of heaven could be breaking through the soil if the church was unified! Paul once implored the Philippian church:
And Jesus prayed these words over his disciples just before his arrest and crucifixion:
Even at the end, Jesus asked his disciples to stay awake with him. When he found them sleeping he said,
Who knows, but maybe if they had been one in spirit, praying together and staying awake as Jesus asked, maybe they wouldn’t have scattered when trouble came. Maybe they wouldn’t have so suddenly forgotten everything he had taught them.
T he work here is hard. This group is resistant to the gospel. The life we speak to them is snatched away by fear, Islamic identity, and lack of understanding. This is the land and soil of their ancestors. What grows from the ground here is not life-giving. It brings death to all those who feed on it.
Yet we know that with God all things are possible. He makes life from death and brings light into the darkness. And he uses his church, with each member working together as one, to be his embodiment in the world. It is only those who are united in mind and spirit and action, those who are praying and keeping watch together, who can break through ground this tough. And all for this single purpose and no other: that the world may see and know Jesus.
So whether someone one day reaps what we’ve sown or we reap where others have sown, it doesn’t matter. “…The sower and reaper may rejoice together.” (John 4:36) The harvest will be greater than any amount of rice Malagasy can eat. It will be a harvest for the kingdom: one that gives eternal sustenance, life, and strength.
Lora, Adam, Matimu & David
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