pruning further and further, faster and faster

23 09 2015

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We have been trying to grow a few tomato plants. 

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The seeds were planted in April still.  There was snow on the ground, but the seeds were placed into little pots and kept under a table lamp  by our late landlord, and I continued the process. 

We had amazing gardens in Uganda and Tanzania, where things grew so easily.  Here there is fast growth in summer, but it does not lead to nearly as much fruit as we grew in Africa.

So that which does grow is precious!

And we have been tending the tomato plants… through May, June, July, August… when we saw the first tiny little bits of fruit growing on the plants. 

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The problem has never been with the growth of the plants.  They are in a hot-house like environment and they grow like they are in a jungle!  After planting out into bigger pots just before we visited SA in July, we returned to crazy ‘Seymour’ like vines just three weeks later. 

Since then we have been trying to direct the growth  first  upon sticks, then thicker strings.  We found out about plucking away the little shoot that comes up in the “v” of branches and have been removing those. 

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Then, when we saw a few real tiny little tomatoes appearing, I became a little more serious about the pruning.  I took away more and more extra growth, to give the fruit every chance of getting some more nutrients and chance for growth.

About a week ago we had a severe cutting session.  We pulled down several vines that simply did not look like they would produce anything useful.  I cut back branches, tried to give the plants as much light exposure as I could, and made sure the vines were supported.  The little tomatoes were still green, but they were still growing. 

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Autumn is arriving quickly. 

There has been a sudden drop in temperatures, lots of rain and the colours are turning almost overnight.

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I went in to check on my tomatoes again this evening. 

The tomatoes are not changing colour yet!

So I started pulling away more branches.  I took away branches that were flowering but will just never give fruit at this stage. 

I pulled away branches of leaves.

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The vines are not looking pretty at all. 

But I am desperate to see some fruit.  Longing for a taste of these little tomatoes that have had a lot of tending along the way.

And God’s “AHA moment” struck. 

We feel like there is pruning going on in our lives. 

Parts that we think are pretty, that grow so crazy fast and even lovely little flowery bits that might possibly lead to fruit:  these are being torn away. 

But the winter is coming.  There is a sense of desperation at time being short in my own spirit.  And all that will not bear fruit: it is being stripped. 

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Of course this is not pleasant.  But  the Vinedresser knows the times, the plant and the conditions far better than the plant knows!

John 15: 1-4 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.   (New Living Translation)

 

We have a huge sense of being on the edge of something.  We are not sure what is happening. 

The challenges become bigger and more… challenging…?

More and more refugees arrive and we feel drawn to them.  The African chitenges  wrapped over shoulders that are as out of place here as… well… chitenges in Lappland… they compel us to grab the right arm with the left, and bow in greeting to shake hands, as one does in East Africa.  The trauma in eyes that many try to hide… it pulls us.  The ‘otherness’ so easily visible in town resounds in our hearts, and we identify with the feelings as we still feel so very other here still too. 

How privileged are we to be situated where we are at this time of world crisis?  Where are you situated?  Everywhere, right now, is a great place to be useful.

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We do not know how much longer there is time to still bear fruit. 

The time is running out.  It seems so urgent. 

Even if it is tiny little fruit, I long to know that there are results. 

Do you also feel the desperation, the urgent pruning, where you are?  May we be faithful to still bring forth good fruit in the time that remains.

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and when you are positioned for the rumbling?

12 09 2015

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This is all part of ONGOING.  There is much that comes before this title.  And there will surely be much that follows. 

There was always a deep knowledge in me that God had called me for others.  This map does not show the time of preparation I spent in India.  Then the years we lived in Uganda and in Tanzania.  There were also the months spent in Zambia. 

There were also the many years that we both had growing up in South Africa, in a few different places.  All of those times, all of those places, were important.  We were not in those places by some kind of accident.  Each day is a part of an eternal purpose.

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But now, and in this place?  There is just something that feels so different.  So God-organised that it could not be an accident. 

We ended up in Vilhelmina in no way that makes human sense.  But it was the only way we could get into Sweden at a time when we needed to find a place to earn some income and live a life that is meaningful.

And now, just over a year along, we are amazed at the positioning. And the timing. 

(Image from America Al Jazeera).

The world is in crisis.

Like never before, the world is struggling.  To make sense of identity.  Struggling to  determine who may be where and what we will do with all those who do not fit where they thought they were meant to fit. 

We knew some time ago that we did not fit in South Africa.  (Reasons)

We know that we are refugees in Sweden.  Economic, safety, purpose.  (Or, wait. Are we  ‘migrants’? And while people fight over names, we all seek refuge from the terrors that  haunt our minds.)

We understand what it feels like to not belong.  We understood it in Uganda and in Tanzania.  We felt it in South Africa, where levels of dislike between groups of people is rising scarily.  And we do feel it in Sweden.  Not understanding language fully is a big force that keeps people apart. 

But there are other fences.  We do not do things in a Swedish way.  We (gasp) sometimes cross the road just before the traffic light goes green.  We sometimes put honey in our filter coffee. More seriously, we are not familiar with this kind of outside.  The cold outdoors are so different from our warm and balmy unfrozen savannahs. 

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But still we know that we are supposed to be here.

We do not have much choice, but we still have a teeny bit of choice with being in a tiny town in northern Sweden. 

We see, almost daily, new people pouring into our town that have just about no choice in being in Vilhelmina or in Sweden.

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It is easier than one can think to be in an environment that is not ideal, or what we think is ideal.  If we have been watching the last few years, we will have seen how quickly technology, leadership… the world changes.  Life requires an adaptability and tenacity that perhaps was not so universally necessary about one hundred years ago.

These blooms in early summer caught my attention.  Growing superbly, exactly where one does NOT expect to find flowers blooming.  Under flowing water, rushing over them, these flowers bloom.  And they reproduce.  And they bring joy to those who get to see them.  We could be like these blooms – flowering in unexpected places.

Fences, barriers and boundaries are not uncommon to us, coming from security obsessed South Africa and Uganda.  (And these ones below are TAME! Unelectrified, unspiked and unwalled).

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Our Swedish friends are always shocked when they see the almost-prisonlike homes in SA.  We have commented before that it is striking that there are comparatively few physical  boundaries and fences in Sweden. But Europe is noticeable for the boundaries and fences going up around people’s hearts. 

The divided attitudes between European nations is obvious.  Those who take many, those who shun refugees.  We are very used to seeing boundaries from Africa.  We know that in Europe, and in Sweden, these are felt. 

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And now, tracks have led us to this place.  And we are glad to be here.  The beauty, daily sense of purpose, freedom, and spiritual significance are all worthwhile reasons for living fully from day to day. 

But the spiritual reasons just got way more significant these last two weeks. 

We did not choose to come to Vilhelmina.  But God chose us for this place.  And we did not realise how important Sweden would become in rescuing refugees even a year ago.  People are streaming in from nations across the world.  And we are already in this place, waiting! 

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It is no accident. 

My heart pains for those hurt by injustice of greed, violence and wickedness.

How can believers NOT be compelled by these concerns that drive the heart of our Father? 

He who sent His own Son as an Outsider, so that all of us outsiders can become the accepted ones.

So that we who are migrants in this world may convey the message that we are never MEANT to feel too comfortable in this world.  It is temporary, and we have no business living like this is all there will ever be.

So that we may live lives that convey the loving heart of a faithful Father, but also a Just Judge who will hold people accountable for how we treat others and accept the outsiders among us.

This is what the LORD says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent! Jeremiah 22:3.  ( See also Ex 23:9, Lev 19:33, Zech 7:10)

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We do not know what our roles here will look like.

This week is a week committed to prayer for our church.  Please would you join in praying that God will show us, and the other churches in our town, how He wants to use us for this time?  And that we would answer with a YES?

Deon, again, received “no” to job applications this past week.  It has been three years of pain with this.  Pray that God would open the right opportunities for him to use skills in an effective way and that there will be resources to pay for ways he may be able to be used with people in Vilhelmina.

I continue my job at the school.  It takes energy and mind-boggling thought.  But I love it.  And I wish to teach an attitude that loves others each moment I am there. Language learning continues to be a challenge.  And the fact that I want to spend my days just hugging everyone, when teaching English is my task for now! 

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What about YOU, where YOU are? 

Please listen and be obedient to what the Holy Spirit requires of you.  He will answer if you ask Him! 

Please do a real, human-contact, climb-over-the-fences (NO! BREAK DOWN THE FENCES!) THING to reach out to strangers in your midst. 

Say hello.  (Learn a few phrases in ‘other’ languages.  Talk.  Yes.  It will be uncomfortable.  Every. single. conversation / effort-at-conversation I have here is uncomfortable. I struggle each time I try to talk Swedish.  I so value when others make an effort, even in stumbling language to talk.  You will feel uncomfortable. But SPEAK. 

Invite people for a meal.  Try and meet half way: some ‘local’ food, some other food.  Talk to them.  Use pictures to communicate.  LAUGH at mistakes together.  Be real.

Help physically.  Go and take items (not just throwing money at a cause) but go and get your hands dirty with things, time, personhood.  Money is rather impersonal.  We are talking about lives of people that really matter. For each one, what they have been living through is pretty personal. 

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This crisis of migrancy has been around for as long as there have been people.  And it will continue for a long time too.

It takes so little for the ‘”us” to become the “them”. Syria was receiving the most refugees in the world two years ago. 

Each day is an opportunity to leave marks of love, compassion and eternity in the hearts of others.  I pray that we will learn to do this, in His grace.