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/>. 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.