I’m sitting in a window seat over the wing, just a couple arms lengths from the giant turbofan engine of a 737 high above Zambia or Tanzania — I’m not sure which — on our way back home. The sky is serene and the light is fading fast below the horizon — blue and yellow and clear of clouds. Sunset on another adventure. These past eight days have seemed much longer. I feel as if I’ve been gone for months and lived another life, and I feel this way perhaps because I don’t think I will fully be able to describe to Renee all the sights and experiences of my journey. As I scribble notes and remembrances in a notebook resting on the tray table crammed into my lap, I realize that like the setting sun, my memories are also fading fast.
It could just be that I’m spent. But in a good way. An exhaustion of body and spirit knit together with great contentment. The contentment is stored up in the memories of care-free adventure, beauty, laughter, and some moderate danger — and in the stunned amazement that I walked away uninjured and a little bit wiser from the journey. This feeling is one of those things which makes our missionary work slightly addictive.
This time the adventure unfolded in an improbable little country carved out of the great nation of South Africa. Lesotho is quite literally “off my radar” as an AIM AIR pilot. We just don’t fly that far. So on this particular trip, I travelled under a different “hat” — that of a writer and a storyteller, along with some of our colleagues in AIM’s media ministry, in which I participate to some small degree. The trip was designed to canvas the small country of Lesotho and tell the story of two very different missionaries, and two very unique ministries: One of them among the outcast shepherd community; And one among the disheartened farmers throughout the land.
Lesotho is called “The Mountain Kingdom.” The descriptor seemed very rich to me: Mountains and kings. Well, only one king actually, and I understand that he’s a good one. Lesotho has the highest “lowest point” of any country in the world. It snows there. You can go sleighing and build a snowman and almost forget you are in Africa. Of course, we planned our trip for the approaching summer months. But we were woefully unprepared. (Noted: don’t rest your planning on the local missionary’s interpretation of “Oh, it’s summer here so don’t worry about bringing really warm clothes.”) I will never go to Lesotho again without thermal underwear and a Polartec.
But despite an unreliable summer, it was still staggeringly beautiful. At times I was reminded of Southwest Virginia or the Southwest United States. At times I remembered my summer long ago in Ecuador; Seeing the locals wrapped up in wool and silhouetted against a backdrop of mountains. Farms and herds conquering the steep slopes of nearby hills. At many a turn I thought about how I could live there and be happy. This was not Africa as I have known it. This was not poverty or suffering or war. But first impressions are as unreliable as the weather it seems. Where I saw beauty, a local missionary described “devastating beauty.” We had eight days to understand what was meant by that; and now more than a week after the trip, I am still meditating on it.
As the guys on the media team begin to comb through the hours of video footage in search of a story, I am preparing to write two of my own. One of them will revolve around a cultural underclass in Lesotho — shepherd boys — and how God may very well use the humble and weak ones in that country to shame the wise, and maybe even bring spiritual renewal through them. The other story is about the decimated farmland of Lesotho and a few missionaries who are showing the people a new way — which is really a very old way — to farm. All the while pointing them to their Creator, the purpose they were created for, and mending their broken relationships with both God, and the land.
I breathed a lot of cool, fresh air in the mountains of Lesotho. Bounced around in Land Rovers for hours on end. Nearly froze to death in a shepherd encampment. Learned a little about farming. And saw that God still loves the feel of moist earth in his hands. And still has a soft spot in his heart for shepherds