A Day in Sean’s Life

I, Nicole, am writing for Sean to record and share his incredibly good, extremely representative sample of what he does and what it means for people.

Wednesday evening, Sean received a call from the women’s garden co-op about an hour’s drive from our house. Guba, a permaculture farm here in Swaziland, had connected Sean with the treadle pump to Ladies with the Gardens But No Water several months ago. The representative calling said the first and second pair of cables on their pump had worn out, could Sean please come give them more spares?

Although he had plans that would fill a Thursday up, Sean decided to halt those plans in order to replace their pump parts, not wanting the ladies to be without water for a few days. At 5:15 am, his alarm went off. After lying in bed for a few minutes, waking up, he rolled over and kissed me saying, “Okay I’m gonna go babe.” Donned his worn-for-the-10th-time-without-washing outfit and scurried out the door.

Mid-morning, I received a call from him.
“I just wanted to tell you how excited I was about the women’s garden!” he exclaimed. He gushed on and on about how they were in-fact using the pump properly (he had suspected some user-error that caused two sets of cables to wear out so quickly), and their land was lush with crops. Fifteen women, ranging from 20 to mid-60s recounted to him how they loved pumping water to their individual plots. These women had initially scowled at Sean and the pump, thinking the work of pumping was “too strong” for them, that they would need to hire a man to do the work. Now they told him, “If I am not on the pump for three days, I feel sick. I beg the other women, please let me pump today, my body needs the work.” They have been pouring water from the river onto their dry, dusty land with the power of their own legs. They have discovered that their community garden, can indeed work. They have realized they don’t need men in the equation to attain a reliable food supply for their families. They have bound together and created a group of older women who work with younger women. And a small community that has food security. Come famine in the land, come drought, their maize, cabbage, beans, tomatoes, spinach, and beets will grow on.

After admiring their crops and giving a few tips, Sean piled back into the truck and headed into town. Somewhere along the way, our good South African friend (middle-class, business-owning guy) called Sean. He asked if Sean might meet him at the hardware store and advise him on the supplies to build a greenhouse. Since meeting he and his wife and 3 children, we’ve watched a transformation happen. They went from eating chips, sweets, and soft drinks regularly, to dreams of 100% of the veggies they consume organically grown at home. They’ve taken hold of the permaculture principles we shared, and took things WAY further than we even do. Documentaries about food production, scientific findings on Genetically Modified Crops, and health in general have become a mild obsession. They’re ecstatic about the improvements in their children’s energies, abilities to focus, behaviors, and even grades at school. Now they’re looking into ways to prevent their heirloom seeds from being cross-pollinated and contaminated by non-heirloom varities. Hence the call to Sean. Hence the mid-day assessment in the hardware store.

Sean grabbed a few items at the store he needed for our construction, then headed home. On his last stop to buy some airtime (read: minutes) for his cell phone, he ran into our church members and neighbors-down-the-way. This family was the first in Masini to buy and use a treadle pump. Not all members were convinced it was a good purchase. Eventually Mama started using it on Sundays (with help from whatever kids she gathered up) to pump enough water for the week into her drums. Then Papa slowed his hours at work, so he had more time at home. They started clearing land and have planted hoards of tomatoes, onions, Swiss Chards, carrots and beets.

Now at the second hardware store of the day (it is the place to meet people!), Sean decided to wait for the family and chat with them as they bought supplies. He had been elbow-deep in garden work and home-construction for several weeks, only popping out for my maintenance visits. Knowing his day was almost shot at this point, he figured, “What the heck. I’ll wait for them and take them home.” So they gathered more supplies now, knowing they had transport. This project was to build a chicken straw yard <http://milkwood.net/2012/06/13/meanwhile-in-the-gravity-chicken-run/&gt;. The family had gotten the idea from their neighbor, Magongo. Who may or may not have gotten the idea from a strongly-suggesting Sean. Once Sean started explaining the possibilities of a straw yard. Papa was SOLD.

On their way back, the couple asked to stop by our house. It had been some time since they had visited. They wanted to see our garden. Sean also showed them the construction that has happened into our small, round, one-room house. Absolutely amazed, Papa said, “You will design MY house.” (He’s currently building a one-room addition to his house). And the wheels of creativity keep spinning.

Not long after he took the family home, I pulled up in the driveway around 3 pm back from my day of clinic work and doula appointments.

After finishing a few chores up in the yard and cleaning up the tools, Sean said, “Ah my day is a wash. I didn’t get anything done. But I did a lot of ministry stuff today. Let’s head to our date night.” (We’ve recently re-implemented date nights. Yay! 1) they’re awesome 2) we need the specific break-time 3) better get what time together we can before ole Baby Boehrig comes bouncing along!)

On our drive to our location, we reflected about the goodness of Sean’s day. How wholly it shows his ministry, heart, challenges, and especially the successes. It was a great day for rejoicing!

As you can tell, one phone call delayed his start-time on the project he’d had in mind. A second phone call sent him further away from that project. But that’s how life is. That’s how relationships go. You choose people over work and you win every time. There’s always more time for work, but sometimes the people are busy or aren’t around to spend time with. The constant interruptions this day were welcomed and even brought fruit.

Sean is doing some pretty amazing things. Really cool Kingdom-bringing stuff. But his success has largely come from not letting things ride on his back. As quickly as possible, he has allowed Swazis, locals, & permanent residents to take over, run, or share the ideas that may have originally been his. For example, the pump at the women’s garden. He saw a need for water movement in agriculture that wasn’t bound by electricity or petrol. He researched, learned, and bought. Then he started telling everyone he knew about it, showed up to demonstrate, and handed out business cards. In this case Guba had trained these women in some standard garden practices, consulting. They later saw Sean and his pump as the missing link in the garden’s endless viability. Additionally, Sean connected the women to the pump store in town run by Kenny. Kenny saw the treadle pump, visited our house, and bought the remainders Sean had. Now, Sean plans to fetch more pumps and sell them to Kenny. He’ll go on telling people and showing them the pump, but they’ll buy their pumps and parts through Kenny, who’s an incredible guy committed to helping small-scale farmers have solutions with water on their land (without marking up the costs!).

Same thing with the chicken straw yard. The family got their idea from their Swazi neighbor, who got it from Sean.
But when someone comes to visit their house and asks, “Where did you learn this?”
They will reply, “Oh Magongo showed up.”
And Sean, the white-man-with-the-ideas is forgotten. Though it may seem sad and empty of glory, this is exactly the way we see missions working. Whenever we might leave, we want our community to have blossomed – quite literally with fruit trees and plants going to seed, but also hearts loving each other a bit better, bellies a bit more full, families sharing the Good News with more ownership. Whenever we might leave this blossoming community, we want visitors to come to Masini and ask in the following years, “Oh where did you get this?” Or “Who taught you that?”

We dream of the people responding, “Ohhhhhh … mmmmm … We can’t recall exactly. Everyone just started growing gardens or sharing food or loving each other, so we just learned it from each other. It was everyone’s idea.” And they might sit around sometimes reminiscing about that white couple and their crazy, white dog, but they won’t think we brought all these ideas. They’ll smile proudly knowing they’ve lived with these powerful, moving ideas their whole lives, and be thankful they encouraged them out of each other into creative, life-changing, community-shaping, eternally-redeeming schemes.

Categories: Kingdom Coming Related, Swaziland Updates | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments


Jesus pushes seeing to the social edge. Can you see the image of Christ in the least of your brothers and sisters? He uses this as his only description of the final judgement. Nothing about commandments, nothing about church attendance, nothing about papal infallibility: simply a matter of our ability to see. Can we see Christ in the least of our brothers and sisters? ‘They smell. They’re a nuisance. They’re on welfare. They are a drain on our tax money,’ we say. Can we see Christ in the people, the nobodies who can’t play our game of success? When we see the image of God where we don’t want to see the image of God, then we have seen with eyes not our own.
Finally Jesus says we have to love and recognize the divine image in even our enemies. He teaches what many thought a leader could never demand of his followers: love of the enemy. Logically that makes no sense. But soulfully it makes perfect sense, because in terms of the soul, it really is all or nothing. Either we see the divine image in all created things, or we don’t see it at all. Once we see it, we’re trapped. We see it once and the circle keeps moving out. If we still try to exclude some (sick people, blacks, people on welfare, gays or whomever we’ve decided to hate), we’re not there. We don’t yet understand. If the world is a temple, then our enemies are sacred, too. The ability to respect the outsider is probably the litmus test of true seeing. It doesn’t even stop with human beings and enemies and the least of the brothers and sisters. It moves to frogs and pansies and weeds. Everything becomes enchanting with true sight. One God, one world, one truth, one suffering, and one love. All we can do is participate.”

- Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, pg 58-59
How’s our participation? As a person? A body of those feebly claiming Christ? How are your eyes?

Categories: Kingdom Coming Related, Social Justice | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Cookies, Cake, and all Things Networking

Cookies were my link into the Labor Ward. Yup. More than one year of prayer and dreaming and trainings and planning. It was cookies that got the dream realized. (ok and a lot of God!)

Homemade baked goods are everyone’s weakness, including mine. Previous blog posts have covered this topic several times about the woes of my love for sugar, yet desire to surmount it. [Note: My sister Gail Madill has seriously stumbled into some ways to battle the sugar cravings. Life-changing stuff. See her Facebook page or website.] Needless to say, sugary, sweet goodies are my weakness.

They are the kryptonite I repeatedly return to. My love for them is the cause of a few extra pounds, and headaches, or sugar comas. They make me do crazy things like eat half a bowl of brownie mix or have three pieces of cake for breakfast. There are few (I actually am struggling to think of another right now) vices that have captivated and controlled me quite so wholly as this one. In short, you might say it’s my greatest weakness.

Yet. Yet The Lord has seen fit to use my greatest weakness for Something. First, I saw it in the Labor Ward invitation. And now, it came in the shape of a cake.

A few weeks ago, our teeny little church planned for visitors. Some folks from our “mother” church were coming for a meeting concerning church matters – like committee and service times.  Our little group of usually five families churned out quite a production. We gathered before church to cook rice, recently-slaughtered chickens, cabbage stew, spinach stew, and make beet salad. In my mind, we needed a cake. And I had a mix at home I had needed to use at home, plus, a newly purchased oven. There was 1.5 hrs left before the visitors came and everything was stewing along nicely; so I proposed it, and the ladies agreed.

I popped home, and whipped up two lopsided cakes (apparently the oven wasn’t level!) in no time. Splashing some icing on top, I piled the covered cakes on a platter, hoisted it to my head (for this IS how you carry things to church) and walked the five minutes back to the building.

Shock and awe could describe people’s reactions. The visitors. The church body. Women. Men. Children. No one expected a cake. No one bakes cakes or has ovens (save that one family with a cob oven) or money for the special cake ingredients. They didn’t even realize that sometimes you make cakes from box-mixes, so I wasn’t even sure what type of flour, or how much bicarbonate of soda went into the mix. Who would have thought?!

Well, the surprise wasn’t over.

Before I came to Swaziland, one dear friend Lindsay thought of me during her Nurse Practitioner class. In deciding which country’s health profile to study, she chose Swaziland and sent me her magnum opus. I read it (okay MOST of it!), and was intrigued to find that the most compelling studies revealed three factors in the lives of HIV negative girls and young adults. It seemed that if these three factors existed in girls’ lives, they were HIV negative and well-educated:

1) a strong relationship with their mother. Makes sense. We learn our self-worth from our moms. How we expect men to treat us, how we think about our bodies, and even our attitudes towards relationships and sex come from our mothers’ teachings.

2) a reliable food supply. If we’re hungry, we’re less likely to perform well in school. We’re more likely to look for someone to feed us. In Swaziland, older men take advantage of this and become sugar daddies giving pocket money for food, clothes, or phones in exchange for sex from school-age girls.

3) education. Ah. The beginning and ending of most change in society. With knowledge comes girls’ awareness they can do more than sell fruit or their bodies. They learn to think fast and on their feet, and even learn about their bodies, how actually someone becomes pregnant, and how to debunk myths and lies told by oppressing men and mothers-in-laws. Plus reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatics and high school diplomas, actually land you better-paying jobs. More food security. And on the cycle goes. It’s also observed that the higher a woman’s education, the less children she has. Greater are those children’s chances of food security and fees for schooling. Hence a broken cycle. Hope.

After reading Lindsay’s findings, I got inspired. Help young girls feel good about themselves, have enough food, and stay in school. Changed lives. I imagined The Lord connecting me with local women who were also passionate about community change. I’d encourage these women and they’d draw in the girls. We’d help them make extra pocket money without sex, or counsel their families on skills in finding work, etc. On and on my dreams went to work with young girls before they ever became pregnant.

And then time moved on. We moved to Swaziland, started learning language, got settled. Eventually, I started working as a doula. Started seeing too many of these girls that needed caught and helped before they got to me. I hadn’t forgotten the initial dream of working with young girls, but had rather started in with young girls and women who were pregnant. Definitely a way into women’s lives, but not exactly prevention of teenage pregnancies or school drop-outs. Feeling heavy with a few stories in particular, I recommitted myself to open eyes and praying for and talking about this idea with The Lord and other women.

A few weeks rolled by, after I started these prayers for open eyes, companions on this journey, and ideas of how to motivate Swazi women in this epic trek towards empowering young girls. Then the visitors came to the church, and I baked my meager, ugly cakes. Later that week, two young women came walking up the driveway. After chatting and asking if I could help them, they responded, “Yes. We wanted to see if you could teach us catering.” 

Another invitation. They’ve invited me to help them. To teach them a skill. To share my cake-baking abilities, so they might make a few rands selling cakes to folks.  

I quickly explained, “Well, I’m not trained in catering or anything. I only know how to make cakes, muffins, and breads because when I was a small girl, my mother taught me to bake. Just like your mothers taught you to cook lipalishi and sishibo. I’m not a professional by any means, but I can help you with what I know.” 

We discussed that the supplies would limit us initially, so I would invite them over when I was baking something for myself – cupcakes for the nurses at work, a bread for a party, or a special dinner for us. Eventually we’d see if they could purchase the ingredients, or I’d front some money, with them paying me back after they’ve sold their goodies. 

Most exciting of all is how long it takes to bake and ice a cake. Two hours at least. That’s two hours with these smart, young ladies who will help me with my siSwati. Two hours of language learning for me. Two hours of talking about boys, and marriage, and children, and self-esteem, and our roles in our community. Two friendships that just may be a start to empowering some females. In the end, at least it’s gonna be fun. I love baking with friends, and I’m sure we’ll become that soon. 


Honestly, in the last few months I haven’t felt very usable. I’ve struggled with the heart to love people. I do things out of obligations, not a genuine love or care for people. I’ve wondered when this “faking it” will turn to “making it” for me. And I don’t know. I’m not sure. I know God is pouring some energy into me, trying to refresh me, remind me of Who I am, reconnect me to His Spirit. In the midst of my angst and anxiety is the King. 

Here is the Lord. Choosing my greatest vice – cookies and cakes – to connect me to people. To use me. 

He’s not using my titles or certificates either. These connections haven’t come in my teaching skills, doula certificate, college degree, or personality. These invitations come through my greatest weakness. 

Oh Lord, You dirty, dirty little dog. Look at you go. You surprise me and delight me. I can’t believe you’re connecting me to these neighbor girls through cake. Please help us to thrive in these relationships. May the cakes lead to education, empowerment, refreshed souls, lives committed to loving, and hearts rooted in Your Love. May these cakes change our community in ways we haven’t dared to ask or imagine.

P.S. Is this a green light on cake eating? ;)


Categories: Kingdom Coming Related, Swaziland Updates | 5 Comments

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