This is our garden (called a "machamba" here in Maxixe). It is flourishing with tomatoes. They are growing in mass on the rows, in the path, everywhere with vibrant green leaves and delicate yellow flowers. I am excited to soon taste the delicious sweet red flesh in my salads and to perfect my bolognese sauce with these fruits...the only thing is we didn't plant any tomatoes.
These are volunteer plants, leftovers from a past machamba, or more likely in our situation, a past disposal/wash area. We planted cauliflower, celery, bush beans, jalapeños, and kale, all seeds shipped from the U.S. It was our idea to use farming methods we knew and were accustom to in our African garden. We were to adapt the way of vegetable growing, which has been in-place for hundreds of years, to what we thought it should be, and we failed miserably. Aside from one kale plant and some sad looking cilantro, we have nothing to show for our efforts of working the land.
Then I realized, this can be just like our missional work, putting so much effort and time in changing a system or custom that does not want to be amended. Like our small garden, it can end in failure. I have seen it at the hospital, as I insist on changes I believe to be the best for the Mozambican patients, workers, and the world...only to have them reversed mere months after implementation. I have gone forward with programs not agreed upon by the local leadership only to see them met with constant resistance, frustrations, and barriers. It took a while to recognize it, but the tomato plant ways of Mozambique are strong and change is not easily accepted. It was humbling to experience these episodes of failure, as I recognized my efforts were not always aligned with what God had for the people.
But God does calls us to be a gardener, a tender of what we have been given. However, in a way which uses God's methods to bring forth the best from what we find, not to work our own agendas. As missionaries, we are but a temporary, outside addition to this land, God's land, and we must at times be reminded God has it under control:
10 For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it,[b] like a garden of vegetables. 11 But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven,12 a land that the Lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. Deuteronomy 11: 10-12
I often say "we are not here to bring God to Mozambique, God is already here, we are just in this place to be apart of what God is doing in the lives and land of the people." However, at times I forget this and I forget God has God's eyes always upon us, always. So our responsibility does not lie in creating a new garden of disciples, but to come along side God as we tend the flock in front of us all to the glory of the Lord.
Although I am not giving up trying to grow kale and squash, we will just take a different approach. The plan is to incorporate local additions to the soil to make it more rich and full of nutrients. We will focus on a small area, using our knowledge and God's strength to make it suitable for growth. We are learning, after all, change does happen, but in small increments and over time, even in ministry...but that's a post for another day.