Social Justice

We’ve Got Land!!! – a wild update


Many of you who’ve been on this journey with us from the early days, may recall that our vision in coming here was to acquire our own piece of land. Through many, many, many ups and downs, disappointments, failed attempts, and new opportunities, owning land never became part of our story. We instead found an amazing landlord eMasini, where we currently live in #theboehrighut. Our land thrives and has connected us to many people and opportunities.

On Tuesday, we made our final decision with peace in our hearts that we would leave Swaziland. Let’s be honest, we’ve lived here for more than 4 years. This was/is our dream. Our decision came with a lot of effort, prayer, struggle, heartache, so just because I don’t share the intimate details doesn’t mean we decided flippantly. 😉 And although we felt a burden lifted in deciding we’d return to America, and began announcing our proposed return date of June 2017, there was still those questions .. .

Will the seeds we planted blossom?

Will the church grow? Has our time been in vain? Is the Lord in this? 

We know this decision is the healthiest for our family; healthy for our work; and well-timed. But the questions lingered.

Tuesday night, the very evening after we felt this peace, Sean, Cedar & I were sitting outside enjoying the evening as it cooled off. Sibosiso (a KEY co-worker with Sean) phoned to see if he could come for a visit.

Sibosiso arrived with his usual smile, speeding in on his bicycle, as Cedar hopped in greeting. After exchanging greetings, Sean asked, “So how did the meeting go?” He’d had a meeting earlier that day about acquiring a new piece of land. Sibosiso’s current land is rocky, uneven, and far from the river. It’s distance from water makes caring for his  chickens (and therefore his livelihood) difficult at best. He has developed quite a skill for growing food for his family in our garden space, but without easy access to water, he’s paralyzed .. . and hungrier.

Because of this land challenge, Sean started pushing him more than a year ago.

Do you know someone who has land by the river? Can’t you use that?

You have GOT to get land. It’s possible. This is your family’ s livelihood at stake. You’re a smart, hard-working man, with land, you are invincible. 

On and on Sean’s affirmations went. On and on his encouragements for him to get land. On and on went Sibosiso’s search. He biked to further communities, found land by the river, inquired about the chief giving it to him (here land is either privately owned & expensive, or owned by the King, who gives chief the authority to “gift” land in exchange for a cow. Most Swazis acquire land this route, but like anything, it’s a who-you-know-determines-your-slice-of-the-pie). He and Sean visited private pieces of land with exorbitant price tags. On and on he biked and prayed and told his family he would find land.

Through months and time, he began contacting our own chief and visiting the mphakatsi. A few weeks ago, Sibosiso acquired favor with the chief’s advisor. I’m not sure the details, or what the indvuna was spurred by (maybe the ole Holy Spirit), but he told Sibosiso, “I’m going to help you find land.”

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“So how did the meeting go?” Sean asked as Sibosiso pulled up a chair. Through excited siSwati, he told us. It’s mine. I have it. 

My gapping mouth must have surprised Sean because he turned and started to “translate” for me into English. I laughed and said, “I heard him. You will get the land?” 

We all laughed and clapped and looked up and let questions fly.

So what do you have to do? When will you khonta (a ceremony that seals the deal and “purchases” the land)?

He pulled out a list and showed us what he needed by tomorrow at 1pm. His wife would cook chickens and rice and veggies for all the guests that would come to witness the giving of his land. Of course beer and juice made the list as well. Additionally,  he needed about $500 to pay the price of the cow . . . by tomorrow.

Our deal from long ago was the if Sibosiso found a piece, Sean would help front the money of the cow and he would pay us back over time. So here we stood. With a bank account reading $124. About $150 in my pocket (to last us for some time). My mind jumped to that savings account I’d be slowly pinching pennies into over the last few months. To give us cushion. . . to cover new baby delivery costs  . . . to be our “nest egg” in case our car broke down. I guess we’ll just have to pull it out of there.

Pushing those worrying thoughts of  money aside, I continued celebrating. Land. LAND!! All these years we’d prayed for our own piece of land. We’ve studied how to khonta. Learned what NOT to do. And wondered why we never did get that piece we felt so certain could become ours. And now I saw it. The land prayers were never for us. Well, never for the Boehrigs. The Lord had a much greater purpose in fulfilling those prayers. Because Sibosiso and his family of 4 need the land much more than we do, will be infinitely blessed by it, will further the Kingdom from their space, and will be rooted in this community until the days they die. How much more they will do than we ever have, or could.

How perfect that the Lord gave us this gift, of watching Sibosiso’s heart lift as he shared how every night he prayed. Everyday he told his family of his dreams. Everyday he hoped. And here he was. Praying God alongside us for this incredible provision.

Because his piece of land isn’t just any piece. It’s on the river. His water source is immediately there!! It’s fertile. It’s free from rocks. And it’s in the community he knows. It’s also uncontested land that was a secret nugget no living person has lived on, which is so rare. I imagine the Lord closed off this land, not too unlike the Garden of Eden. Land guarded and protected from any human eye, and thieving neighbors, or conniving uncles. And I imagine the Lord was saving the land for such a time as this.

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And when Sibosiso left, I turned to Sean with that worrying question on my mind, “So we’ll just take the extra money we need out of savings, right? I can transfer that tonight, so it’s ready in the morning.”

Placing his hand on my shoulder, Sean said, “Nicole. The Doula project money.” He was right. Just 2 weeks prior, we (I) had decided that the Doula Project would not be moving forward (a whole other blog to come). Because the money had been half-raised for the project, some of our donors to this point had allocated their funds to be re-distributed to whatever project we saw a need for.

“Oh my goodness. You’re right. Sean! Do you realize how much money has been reallocated from our donors?”

“I don’t know, $500?”

“Yes. that’s just a little more than R6,500. More than enough of what he needs!”

Can we even fathom the greatness of this? Can you marvel at the intricate dance of preparation of our Lord?

Wow. Wow. Praise.

The very next day, the chickens were cooked, the drinks were poured, over 40 witnesses gathered on Sibosiso’s new land. The witnesses saw him give money in exchange for the land. Siboniso took photos of everything for evidence later (we’ve learned, people. We’ve learned). And now the land is his. Just like that.

To firmly establish his boundaries, the Gwebu family needs to erect a fence. Because they can’t leave their chickens all day, they’ve been employing Sizwe to come and sit. Yes, Sizwe would take 2 days to walk the distance from his house to theirs, so he needs transport. But here is the neighbor whom people had easily forgotten about. Who had forgotten about his own worth, until others began reminding him in recent years. He may not be able to do much, but what he can do, he does with gusto, a hearty laugh, and follow-through. And so while the Gwebus work on their new land, their new-found-friend Sizwe cares for their chickens. He knows about the business, because after all, he was the first to insist that Sean start a chicken business for him.

And it comes full circle. Our hearts are full.

 

Categories: Kingdom Coming Related, Social Justice, Swaziland Updates | 6 Comments

Refuge


Normally, when I open the front door in the morning, fierce sunlight streams in, blinding my just-waking-up eyes. But yesterday there was light, but no fierce sun. Clouds hung low, drizzling our dry, dusty ground with a mist so fine you want to stand amongst it, arms out, and let your dry, dusty skin soak it up.

Ahh. The rain has come.

And with it, a need for shelter.

Curled underneath our Toyota, was our landlord’s lone dog, Jasmine. She looks so precious, yet desperate huddled in the dirt under the only shelter she could find, or was allowed to take refuge in.

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Jasmine finding refuge from the rain under our truck.

Refuge. The word echoed through my mind as I considered the hurt swirling around my shoulders. Stories that have entered my ears in recent months. Women who are used by men for sex. Men who treat their women cruelly. Children forced to watch cows instead of learn to read. Refuge. People in desperate need of a refuge.

My relationship with Jasmine, this dog, most wonderfully highlights the daring risk of relationships with broken people – ahem – ALL people. 

Jasmine’s name is not Jasmine. In fact, she has no name. I’m not sure if her master even knew she was a her until she delivered 5 puppies on his doorstep. She’s a “Swazi dog”, which is similar to a “Mexico dog” or any mixed-breed mutt that one might find in a developing country. Flea-ridden, tick-laden, unresponsive to human touch (let’s be honest, touching isn’t really an option for her), controlled by her master’s rock-throwing, hardly fed, worm-infested, and sometimes mangy. Her ribs protrude into the brown and black flesh that tries desperately to keep her warm and be called a coat. She’s rough on the outside. When we first met her, her silence bothered us. Never a bark or whine or tail wag. . .

That tail never wagged until she met Thor. And then, throwing it high, she’d put out this guttural half-whine, half-bark, clearly ecstatic expression and they’d romp and play. . . for hours. Our vaccinated, bathed (okay, twice a month he’s bathed), well-fed, cherished, trained to a click or a whistle little Thor and this mangy dog would play for hours.

When I saw the desperate situation she was in, how far from being a domesticated dog she’d fallen, I felt moved to name her. She couldn’t just be “our landlord’s dog”, or “that mutt”, or “oh you know, that dog”, she needed to be Jasmine. Named after that mysterious, beautiful, compassionate, full-of-zest brown-skinned, black-haired disney Princess.

Jasmine, the dog's name-sake

Jasmine, the dog’s name-sake

She needed a name of redemption. Something to call her out of the broken, ugly, far-from-her-calling lot.

The name stuck, and she certainly spent more time around our place. Like anytime you get close to someone or something that’s dirty, broken, and cast out by those who should love it, it gets messy. It’s not all, “love will fix it all” or cupcakes and roses overnight. Brokenness begets brokenness, and if you allow it close to you, stare her in the face, it’s gonna break you too.

Somedays I loathe Jasmine. She kills anything I plant outside the fence garden. Granted, she loves the grass-topped mulch for a comfy, warm, dry place to sleep, but she doesn’t exactly see the lavender transplant under her scrawny bum. She breaks into the chicken’s pen, nightly to steal any eggs we haven’t collected (or are forming into baby chicks). She poops all over our garden beds, nasty-foul specimens. Poop that I have to shovel up, rebury, throw over the fence, and just plain deal with. She jumped into our humanure compost, dug around, and slept there one night before we Jasmine-proofed that. Our habits of living adjusted to make things Jasmine-proof. I may be known to yell “Suka!!! Suka Jasmine!!!” (Get out!) when she steps into our garden. I haven’t tried teaching her to shake because she won’t let us touch her.

But she will let us feed her scraps. She’ll play endlessly with our dog. She’ll greet us when we walk up from the gate, moaning, curling back her lips in greeting (it certainly seems like a smile), and hopping around, encircling us with her greeting and delight. At night, she’s taken to barking ferociously when someone unwelcome (to her) enters the yard. She even will help Thor chase the unwanted goats, dogs, or cows from the yard (our new past time).

Although a delightful transformation has slowly unfolded with Jasmine, there are still ugly moments. And those moments bring out my true heart. The one that really wants her to go away and never come back because I’m just so tired of not eating grass-fed chicken eggs for breakfast. But the bad days with Jasmine are tempered with the good. The moments when I see her curling in, blocking out the hurt, the rain, the cold, those are the days I think anything is possible with her. That redemption will continue to come to her. That one day, she may be the fullest expression of a loved, domesticated dog.

But it’s not really dogs I’m talking about, is it? Jasmine’s story parallels the stories of our neighbors. Parallels the stories of the broken, hurting, shamed, and torn-down folks who come to us with shoulders bent against the crushing blow of husband’s hand, unjust work wages, unpaid school fees, or just plain hard life. Life with them is messy and ugly when I’ve put my heart on the Throne and want all to serve me. It’s messy when I’m 12 hrs into a day, with still a rainy, 45 minute drive home. It’s ugly when upset family members start haggling you with phone calls. It’s messy when you have to deal with people’s shit. It’s ugly when the one you’ve been pouring your heart into is found to abuse his wife. It’s ugly when I want to just throw rocks at them until they leave me in peace. The ugliness of sin is in my heart, in our lives, and trapped amongst us as we crawl towards healing.

But the beauty is there too. It sneaks in as hope creeps across a face. It sneaks in when we hug each other, and cry and say, “This is awful. It should not be this way. This was not God’s design.” It’s beautiful when we reach out beyond our small circle and find a larger, more equipped support team of counseling, and safe houses, police who care, and teachers who try. There’s beauty when we just crawl underneath the Cross, throw our coat across our legs and sleep because rest is a step towards health and regrowth. There’s beauty in lives being remade. There’s beauty in being place of refuge for such brokenness.

All throughout my yesterday, as the rain drizzled and the cold that came with it swept around my legs, one thought returned again and again. Refuge. 

“God is our refuge and strength,

always ready to help in times of trouble.”

“Show me your unfailing love in wonderful ways.

By your mighty power you rescue those who seek refuge from their enemies.”

Psalm 46:1; 17:7

My mind also recalled the Joshua 20 “Cities of Refuge.” Going back to look up the specifics, I was reminded that these Cities of Refuge were originally allotted as well-spread out places in the Promised Land. The intention seemed to be a place when someone who accidentally, innocently murdered someone could flee to to escape the family avenger (angry relative coming to kill the incidental “killer”). In these cities, people could find unbiased judgment, people who would listen to their stories without raising sticks or stones of condemnation.

As a commentator at Enduring Word.com points out, the cities of refuge parallel our picture of Jesus. There are several compelling similarities between these cities and Jesus.

  • Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are within easy reach of the needy person; they were of no use unless someone could get to the place of refuge.

  • Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are open to all, not just the Israelite; no one needs to fear that they would be turned away from their place of refuge in their time of need.

  • Both Jesus and the cities of refuge became a place where the one in need would live; you didn’t come to a city of refuge in time of need just to look around.

  • Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are the only alternative for the one in need; without this specific protection, they will be destroyed.

  • Both Jesus and the cities of refuge provide protection only within their boundaries; to go outside means death.

As the hands, feet, hearts, homes, and people that stand as Christ amongst our neighbors, we, too, are Cities of Refuge. WE are to the be the places within reach of the needy people. WE are to be open to all, not just those like us, or those whom we understand. WE are to be a place where one can live, or connect them to a new permanent home. WE can be the only alternative for those in need. WE don’t go out and hunt down the avengers and get ourselves into a fight. Our homes are walls that protect. WE have to be close enough for people to get to us. People have to know someone will meet them at the entrance with no judgement, but one hand held out to them, another hand holding open the door. People have to trust that we’ll be there. That they’ll always be welcome. That they will be safe. And then, they will come.

These concepts rolled over and over my body throughout the day, into the night, and continue undulating over me as I wake.

And when I don’t know how to safely, wisely be a Place of Refuge, I can reach out to the broader community of social workers, abuse hotlines (thank you SWAGAA), safe houses, or others who have dealt with “neighbor’s abandoned dogs.” In that broader community, I find others whose faces and actions look like Christ, and together we seek His example of safety and protection for those who need it. Amen.

Categories: Kingdom Coming Related, Social Justice | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Participation


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?

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