i’m tired and i need a break.
find joy & peace & happiness & purpose. if you’re not enjoying your everyday then change something —- fight for the feeling of fulfillment and excitement and joy of doing what you love and being with the people you love. choose to not let yourself be bogged down by the pressures of life; choose to not let work rob the passion you have; don’t lose your curiosity & creativity. take time out of your day to do something you love — that you just choose to do yourself. stop only doing things because you have to: don’t let life become a chore. do things because you want to & because you love it & because they give you joy!
This land is broken – cracked and dry with gouges where water used to run. The ground crunches underneath weary feet, and a high sun overlooks the landscape, suspended alone in the sky. The only clouds are clouds of dust that hover around ankles as feet drag across the land, past rows of mountain aloe, around thorn bushes and cacti, far from the homestead – all in search of water. Any water.
The coarse and crooked branches of malnourished trees scratch the air, each leaf a muted green. Everything is covered by a dusty russet haze. The hills cause the horizon to waver – from afar they are just grey-blue silhouettes painted below the sky, but they are the same hills as the ones we are standing on: drumlins of dust and crumbling rock. The patches of grass and leaves on the trees are no comfort, no hope – they are so overwhelmingly outnumbered by the dry and the dying. The grave of a river splits open the land. Fractured by the drought, the riverbed looks like crocodile skin. Lavumisa was bled dry years ago, and its people bear the scars.
In the homesteads, you can see some of them sitting, wilting in the small shade of a hut. Some are fading from exhaustion, from sickness, from hopelessness. A mother nursing her baby; a grandfather sitting beside his ill granddaughter; a child dozing beside a haggard dog. It is midday: the sun is at its highest point, forcing them to surrender to its heat. As they sit there, they look out at their home, at what is theirs: stick and wire fences securing their land; a few small mud-and-stick huts, cracking in the heat and the sun; their clothes draped drying on the mountain aloe, or hung on wire between posts; their chickens wandering, pecking fruitlessly at the ground; plots of land, empty of growing crops; their children. They don’t have much, and yet they were still stolen from. The drought has taken so much from them.
Every day they have to walk for miles from their homesteads without the certainty of finding water. The sun beats down on their backs, the tauntingly blue sky stretches above them, their breaths don’t stir the still and stifling air. There used to be a river that ran through the centre of Lavumisa, with lush life growing around it. But now all that is left is a wide stretch of soft wet clay, with puddles and hand-dug wells scattered along it where people have dug for the water that lies below the riverbed. This water, clouded and brown, may be enough to survive on, enough to fill up a few pails of water – but is it enough to live on? Water is the foundation of all needs, the source of all life. Not only is it required to nourish and sustain the body, but it is needed for growing crop, for getting money, for getting the food that is needed – for sustaining the course of a life. They haven’t seen rain for three years. What kind of hope can they have for the future when the source of their most basic need is thrown into question? There is no certainty anymore. They are forced to forget the future and focus on surviving the day.
They persevere on.
A woman, her eyes shaded by a straw hat, walks her donkeys to the riverbed, bringing buckets to fill for her family – she has seven children to look after, waiting for her at home. Some of her children have never seen rain in their life, most of them don’t remember the feeling of rain as it falls from the sky onto their skin, or what it looks like as it falls and ripples the river’s water. She doesn’t want to talk, she moves from place to place in an unyielding rhythm that was written years ago and replayed day after day after day. She hasn’t seen her husband in a month, he works in the sugar cane fields hundreds of kilometres away. She is alone to provide for her children. But she endures – she lives every day like this. It is her duty, she has no other choice but to keep doing it. If she stops moving, if she stops laboring, scraping and striving for each drop of water, the wave of hopelessness looming over her might finally fall and drown her. So, her tired feet trudge onward. Squinting in the sun, she fixes her eyes on her destination and marches on – to the riverbed, and then home. Home to her children. When she arrives at her homestead, her hardened disposition shifts. She forgets the days of toil and the years of drought – she sees her children. Her children giggle and laugh around her, with smiles of defiant joy, bouncing and dancing with a limitless energy. They run about, playing hide-and-seek around the homestead, and she can’t help but smile and laugh along with them. She melts and her once-stony face glows with a warmth softer than the sun and sweeter than running water. The bare sky of hopelessness is streaked with wisps and clouds of unrelenting hope when she sees her children – they are her joy, her purpose, what makes the days of strife worth it.
Another woman, elderly, with a face dark and weathered from the sun and the years, carries a hoe in one hand and bush knife in the other. She walks to her plot of land beside the riverbank – it is riddled with thorn bushes and weeds, nothing grows here. She has come to dig up the weeds and thorn bushes, to burn them and the trees to make the land available for planting. The land is surrounded by a wire fence held up by sticks, and a plastic pipe stretches across it as the neighbouring plot tries to pump some water from the riverbed. She starts a fire to burn away the cut-down branches and thorn bushes, and collects strewn weeds and branches for the fire. Her bare hands are scarred and scratched by the thorns but her skin is tough. She is used to this work, she has been doing it all her life. But she is weaker and older now, she isn’t as able as she used to be. She can’t bend down to uproot the weeds from the ground, or hack down the branches of the dry and dying trees. And yet, she is still determined to cultivate the land, to see growth in a land where nothing grows. A child comes to help, so does a woman, so does a man. They help her by cutting down the branches and weeds for her, and uprooting the thorn bushes. They work until the sky bleeds upwards from the horizon then darkens and speckles with stars. This isn’t delusion, this isn’t naivety – the faithfulness and perseverance of their labour is an act of defiance. It is a battle against the hopelessness that grows like a weed in Lavumisa.
People are withering in this hopelessness, and yet there are still warriors of hope. Pastor Sabelo is one of those warriors. He bubbles and overflows with an insuppressible and inexplicable joy. He is faithful, patient, and unrelentingly hopes in his God’s perfect plans regardless of the circumstances that he is in. As the pastor of the only church in Lavumisa, the Christian Life Church, he has been a vital advocate for hope in Lavumisa for many years. He speaks with earnest excitement and wisdom, often broken up by infectious giggles, and a constant smile plays on his lips. His stories are miraculous: he has seen healing, provision, lives changed and hope restored. He has seen rain come after a 20-year drought. And he believes each miracle is because of the faithfulness of his God. He believes that his God answers prayers, and he continues to pray for the healing of the land and for the provision of the rain. As he walks by the riverbed, his head bowed and eyes closed, and a smile on his face, he prays, “Thank you, Lord, that you can take faith as small as a mustard seed and move mountains.” Suddenly, everything holds a new significance – the leaves on the trees, the perseverance and resilience of the people, the children’s defiant exuberance and joy. These are the mustard seeds of hope planted around Lavumisa.
please don’t let me be
by this trip. I don’t want to
to my old life.
I don’t want to
forget what I learnt and heard and saw.
I want to remember and be changed.
Please can I be changed.
Don’t let these days away be wasted – don’t let them fade away.
Don’t let these days be wasted.
Swaziland: October 2017
This half-term break, I was so lucky to go on a St Mungo’s Youth Mission trip to Swaziland. It was absolutely amazing. We played with kids, weeded, painted, visited, prayed, danced, sang and slept under the stars. I wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the place or the love, hope, joy, kindness, hospitality of the people of Swaziland. I was touched and changed by the lives and characters of the people we met. I really feel like I can’t do this trip, these experiences, or these people, any justice through merely words. God really humbled me and spoke to me this trip. He taught me the importance of waiting on Him, patience, and that true hope doesn’t depend on circumstances.
Some of the things I saw were enough to break my heart, to bring me to my knees in tears – the drought, the sickness, the stories of abandonment and abuse. But I also saw things that lit a flame of hope in my heart. The stories of healing, the children who had been rescued from abusive homes or off the streets and brought in with love, the unrelenting hope of those suffering from the drought. I had been struggling to understand how people who didn’t even have the most basic need – and the foundation of all other needs – because of the drought, could trust in a God who loves them; how could they believe that there was a God who loved them and provided for them? If Jesus gives life-giving water, why weren’t these people getting the water they needed to actually survive? Then we met a pastor in Lavumisa, and I was so inspired and my entire outlook shifted. He was so excited and joyful – he was convinced that God would provide for them, and that God has good plans for him. He rested on the truths of the Bible and remembered times in the past where God had brought rain after a 20-year drought, and he didn’t give up praising God for his faithfulness – all whilst the river in Lavumisa was still dried up. He held onto the truth that God’s timing is perfect, and that God will protect and provide. I was inspired by his patience and his faith in God’s provision despite the circumstances that he was in. Meeting him made me realise:
Patience is the perseverant hope in the Lord’s provision, protection and perfect plan, regardless of the situations that we are in.
Listen to our syncopated hop skip
and our plucking of rosebuds and daisies.
As children in spring, smiles tug on our lips,
and the warm rising sun lights our faces.
Wrists are laced with daisies like many suns,
the rosebuds round our necks are like lockets
waiting to be opened. We laugh and run
as petals overflow from our pockets.
Hand-in-hand, steps weave in and out of time
among the fresh budding flowers. We play,
oblivious to the brightening sun:
springtime to summer, and morning to day.
No longer children, we look to the sky
for a breath, we see the blue and the white
then the hot blazing sun. Blinded, we try
to navigate onward, to gain some sight –
torn by the pursuit of the light, our hope,
and the awareness that night will come near
and surround us. Soon the darkness will rope
around our necks, but we ignore it. Here:
surrounded by light, surrounded by life.
But then summer’s scattered footprints decay:
crabapple blossoms fallen from trees lie
wilting along with the light of the day.
Listen to the rustle of trembling leaves,
their whispers clash with the bite of the air.
The rusting sky echoes that of the trees,
but the rust inside us cannot repair.
It seems these days could trudge through clouds of rain:
step after step after step after step.
Our hands – with skin like tree bark – crack and wane.
Step after step after step after step.
Hands cling together – braced against the cold
that we know will come. We see the sun sink
into the horizon – we reach out, try
to trap it in our hands. But then we blink.
The syrup of the sky turns into tar,
darker and darker and darker – then black.
The only light comes from the fading stars.
We want the sun, the spring, the daylight back.
It’s now too dark to see the missing hands
once inside ours. The footprints beside us
fade with a final thump. Silence expands
round us like a blanket – blades of frost cut
into every step on the barren ground.
The snow muffles every breath, every cry
when we finally understand that we
can’t reach up and pluck the stars from the sky.
Milky eyes gleam like opals
set into her rocky face.
The ridges and cracks of
time crease around her eyes,
her skin is weathered and
Wrinkled yet steady hands stroke
the petals of a flower plucked
from a cherry tree,
the fingers see its delicate form –
fragile like glass.
Her hands linger towards the horizon,
unable to touch
– to see –
the curves of the hills ahead,
or the rays of light dappling
through the overhanging leaves.
All that can be felt, that can be
is the curve of a pebble in her palm
like the line of hills rolling
away in the distance;
and the cool flow of water
like light through the trees.