The man said he couldn’t leave his pigs.
That me asking him to leave his pigs was like him asking a nursing mama to abandon her babies — and a couple hundred of them.
I understood what the Farmer was saying, I did.
The way the man needed his hogs or something in him would fester and hurt, a mastitis of work. He tells me — days of just sitting and standing, it will give him headaches and backaches and does he need to go because he is happiest when he is bent and working and do I understand?
And yet this is what he says weeks later: he will go to Ecuador, that he’ll pack his bags and a map. Because when you hear a call, it needs an answer, deep unto deep, and lives that yield are always the one that say yes. Even if you don’t understand.
He leaves a couple hundred mama sows and all their milk-guzzling, nuzzling babies, and he flies with me to Ecuador because of a call and for children.
And on his first day in Ecuador?
God gives him this —
The pied piper of pigs — that’s what they grin and call him — and the Farmer laughs, at home with the swine and the snouts a continent from home, and I can’t stop shaking my head. God knows what a man needs and He sees.
The hogs are Rosa’s.
Rosa smiles when she shakes the Farmer’s hand, two pig farmers meeting shy and grateful for the other.
She stands in front of her barn, says that that one of her pigs fell down into the ravine last week and he shakes his head in sympathy. He says that swine influenza went through year before last and she nods consolation. Rosa and the Farmer both say how their kids are needed and help them with the pigs.
The Compassion translator’s translating, but the two of them, they are speaking this one language of crazy grace.
Rosa sells hogs to put food on the table for the trio of children ringing her — Adriana, Alex, Liliana.
The children lick dripping popsicles brought by the pastor.
Rosa tells us no man has ever stayed. Liliana presses into her mama’s leg. She says that this has been her home for seven years, what she rents from her mother, this dirt floor. These two beds pushed up end to end.
A clothes closet that’s a tattered box marked “Operation Christmas Child.”
There is no table. There is no chair.
There is one window, a tattered feed bag over a patch of light. I watch the patch of light on Rosa’s face.
All these shadows.
Would we help her help her plant potatoes?
The Farmer breaks into his own swath of light. God knows what a man needs and He sees.
Yes, he says, yes, this he can do, he needs to do, wants to do. He can help her with dirt.
And she trembles —
And it all runs down and the Farmer watches Rosa rain. He looks over at me watching her pour.
Rosa tries to turn, to hide what’s falling.
But the translator lays a hand on her shoulder, gently asks why does she break open and she hardly murmurs it — that she feels alone.
That life is hard, has always been hard, and where is anyone to help?
The pastor, he’s come, invited to feed her children through the Compassion program three meals a week – but not one of the children have a sponsor yet.
They just wait.
Seeds in done dry soil, waiting for rain.
Little Liliana, popsicle dripping, walks across the bed, it taking up most of the house’s floor space, and she wraps her arms around her one mama and she soaks her mama’s tears in her black hair. God knows what a woman needs and He sees. Do we see that she needs us?
Rosa draws up a deep breath, smiles brave for her girl. She holds her Liliana, light in a feedbag room.
“I am happy that you have come.” She says this to the Farmer, to us, eyes still glistening, sun after storm.
Does she know how happy that God gave her?
The Farmer follows Rosa to her scratched up field that falls off the edge of the earth.
He takes up a handful of her dirt on the ravine. It’s loamy and black. “You have good dirt,” the Farmer tell her this. She blushes happy. “Gracias.”
Two farmers speaking each other’s language and we are all humus, all dust and all so poor in spirit, hands in need of filling.
She gives him a bag of manure.
The Farmer who hauls his manure with a tractor and a spreader, he rolls up his sleeves and he handspreads Rosa’s fertilizer.
Who could have known that the Farmer’d be planting a field in Ecuador and he is so happy to be bent and giving and working, the pigs running everywhere free range, and this is what he needed to do be strong on this trip and I see what God knows —
Rosa needed him and he needed Rosa.
Don’t we all need a reference letter from the poor when we meet Christ?
Don’t we need to learn how bend and sacrifice and know the Cross-formed life?
Don’t we need the poor to really see?
Rosa tells him to shake the bag of manure out thinner and the Farmer, he nods, and the potatoes keep falling to the earth, all the eyes turned up.
That is the insidious danger of wealth — that it makes you blind. Blind to the hungry Christ and the thirsty Christ and the suffering Christ in humanity. Affluence can anesthetize you to God and belongings can blind you to Christ and isn’t this why it’s hard for the rich to enter heaven – blind and visionless to Christ?
Rosa bends with her hoe, bends over the soil and the eyes of the potatoes seeking to grow, and the Farmer, he bends with her. Rosa’s a steel fragility, a bent beauty. Jesus’ life, it was a cruciform life, a cross-shaped life, from beginning to end, and those who claim Christ aren’t only saved by a crucified Savior – their lives are shaped by the crucified Savior.
The cross isn’t some cheap wooden imitation of our faith — but the exact way the faithful embody the life of Christ.
Because the cross is the key to life — and it’s resurrected in the midst of the poor and the oppressed and the suffering. And when we don’t see the suffering, when we don’t stand in solidarity with the suffering, when we don’t surround our lives with the suffering – we never form our life like our Savior’s.
A Word-shaped life is not a wealth-shaped life but a cross-shaped life.
I have no wild idea how to do this.
What if all this truth, all this witnessing, is like throwing pearls before swine and I do nothing, change nothing, reshape nothing?
After the last potatoe eye is buried like a seed in good soil, I take Rosa’s neice’s hand, Abigail and we walk up to eat, and this shaping a life into the Cross-life, could it begin by just simply stretching out a hand?
The Farmer washes his hands under Rosa’s only tap.
He winks at me as he dries them with her towel. The Farmer’s asked to prays over the food, over what was reaped from what was sown.
We eat pork at her table. The Farmer, he can’t stop smiling. Neither can Rosa.
The holes in the walls are covered with pig feed bags.
The light still gets in.
The Pastor, he sits beside me at the table. We’d seen it, before the Pastor had brought us up to Rosa’s, where the pastor shepherds out of this circular church with a tin roof and to us farmers, how the church sounded like a grain bin when you step into it, the way the space echoes high. And then when it fills with the more than 300 children served through the Compassion program? Could a grain bin hold a greater harvest?
The Pastor, sitting beside Abigail and Alex and Liliana and Adrian, he tells us between mouthfuls that there are nine other villages up these steep hills enchained to extreme poverty.
How he’s working diligently to earn the trust of wary parents all along these roads, trust that Compassion freely, without cost to poor families, feeds needy children 3 days a week and provides volunteers to help children and that Compassion, through the local church, it offers the redeeming hope of education, food, love and Christ.
I watch Abigail across the table too.
I pray too.
I ask the translator quiet, who asks the pastor, “Why does he do all this? What motivates him?”
The Pastor looks up from his plate and there is no missing beat: “Because of Jesus.”
His eyes well and this is what he says exactly, because I ask the translator to repeat the pastor, word for Word:
“Gratitude is born in the heart. And it leads you to action.”
And I can hardly believe the words; they seem to fall straight from above, straight living water, and I’m the one welling.
Thanksgiving to Christ born in the heart — delivers a life of action in the body of Christ. The Pastor’s echoing in Spanish what God had just whispered that very morning… Thanksgiving becomes thanksliving when the thanks for His vertical, coming-down grace is expressed as a horizontal, reaching-out grace.
He’s echoing my heart in One Thousand Gifts: A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting out the love of Christ.
That — love is but this overflow of thanksgiving to Christ that fills the empty places of others.
I look over at the Farmer and now he’s shaking his head. A Pastor in Ecuador’s punctuating all these the words of God into my life.
Rosa speaks his language and the pastor speaks mine and God knows what we need and He sees.
Do we see how we need each other?
One helping the other up and the other helping the blind to see and the Body of Christ, it never stops working for a common healing, us saved by the God who poured out.
There’s a Christmas tree in the corner of the lean to we ate in, a Christmas tree in the beginning of November, strung with a single strand of stars.
When we stand on the road, about to go, the Farmer and a musician, they give food to Rosa. She rains again.
But there’s no turning away this time.
She buries herself in the arms of the Farmer — something growing larger in all of us.
And when we hold hands on the road before leaving and pray for rain for the potatoes, pray for the seeds of these children waiting for a rain of sponsors, when we pray for yield and harvest and yes, us bowed and bent and hands stretched out — I see how God takes all our needs and meets those needs through needy people.
How the broken Christ-followers might form the Cross-formed body of Christ — joint-upon-stretching-out-and- meeting- joint….
How God takes what little there is and the little we are and all that is offered —
and He makes these silk purses out of sow’s ears…
Check in with all the other God-sized Ecuador stories that Melanie, Sophie, Kelly, Amanda, Patricia and Shaun are writing? Will you pray about sponsoring a child in need today? They need you — and you need them…
How will you practice your faith?
And what ever you are thinking and wherever you are at right now — might you please just take one moment and honor a child of God and click over to pray for just one Ecuadorian child — just for one moment?
More videos of the Farmer and the Musician will be uploaded and shared on twitter … so if you’d like to follow all the footage and stories? Find all the Compassion Bloggers sharing photos and footage here on twitter… Thank you for praying!
Every Wednesday, we Walk with Him, posting a spiritual practice that draws us nearer to His heart.
For this week and next week: … might we explore: The Practice of Faith… What does it look like to believe? How do you practice your faith day to day? How do you share that faith, deepen faith in Christ, live that faith out in the midst of fears? The whole community looks forward to your prayerful reflections stories, ideas….
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