I would not hesitate to agree with you if you were to say ‘someone who refuses to work should not be given food’. Work is part and parcel of our earthly life. Even the apostles in the first century would make us believe that those who had not done any work should not be given food: 2 Thessalonians 3: 10. It is but normal that hard work should be rewarded, for God will always bless the fruits of our labor. My experience in Witu/Kipini Parish (Kenya) seems to rewrite these words.
I came in to Witu/Kipini Parish on September 13th 2016. The climate was totally different from what I was used to in Nairobi. There had been no rain for some time. Moving aound the outstations, one could easily make out that most of her inhabitants were farmers. Many of our Christians depend solely on their farm harvest to sustain their families. A large part of the population rely also on their cattle, while a relatively small group engage in retail business. Ninety nine percent of the population in the entire parish looks up to sky for rain in order to put food on the table.
As the days went by it became very uncertain when the rains might come. I remember commenting to a group of friends on how dry it was here as compared to my home and most of them just smiled and one told me:
“Wait, you have not seen the real dryness yet, Patrick”.
Actually, I thought it was a joke because there had been signs of rain from the nimbus clouds which I had seen so often above me since the day I arrived. By early November, the people started preparing their farms for planting. It seemed my speculations of apparent rains were finally going to materialize. But it was not until December that the short rains came. There was serious planting. The place changed drastically in just two weeks. Green fields and pools of water all around. Although some places still remained dry, at least greater portion was wet and green. The people planted enthusiastically. There was much hope looming in the air as the rains continued. Then came the time for weeding, fertilizing and spraying of insecticides. All was done to ensure a good harvest. It was going well up until the plants reached flowering stage. Then the rains suddenly disappeared as if to say it had just taken a short break.
We started hoping for just one more week of rain to save the plants but no luck came our way, a few more days of rain only to let them produce the least they could, but nothing came. We didn’t give up hope. We thought even just a day of rain would do the job but this was only met with reluctance from the clouds to bring down this much needed liquid. The situation became increasingly bad. We started hoping for a few drops of dew every morning to save the last leaves but the next day always looked the same as the previous one if not worse. By mid-January the frustration of the farmers as well as a good number of cattle owners was something words could not describe. They had no choice but to standby and watch their farms dry up as the days went by. Healthy looking maize stems drying up with empty combs. Flowers falling off beans plants and leaves drying up. “All that labour was wasted”, one lady told me with so much uncertainty in her face as we stood beside her farm in one of the outstations. She had hired a tractor to plough her farmland, bought the seeds, planted, done part of the weeding herself, then paid others to help her. This is the result of all that toiling: dry stems. Not even the idea of “smell of the sheep” which Pope Francis expounds on paragraph 24 of “Evangelii Gaudium” crossed my mind. I would ask him if he were around here: ‘how is this possible here?’
The cattle as well as the sheep were not left behind. Many cows, sheep and goats died. Dry bones everywhere. If only they could come back to life like the dry bones in Ezekiel chapter 37. These dry days came with many more problems. Most of the boreholes dried up as well. There were increasing cases of human – wild life conflicts. There was fear, tension and hunger all around the parish. I could not stop asking myself “but why”. Where did we go wrong? Was it our fault? What happened? Is this what Mission Experience is all about?
On the first page of instructions on my Mission Experience Programme (MEP) it says it’s a “learning experience”. Learn from a people in despair.
A hard working but hungry flock. This is a classroom I would not freely choose to enter even if there are no school fees. Seeing people go to bed with empty stomachs after they had worked hard the previous months to avoid it. This was not the best.
The months of January, February and March were to spell doom. The government of Kenya had no other choice than to announce the drought as a national disaster seeking international help. Tana River and Lamu counties in which our parish is situated were cited as the two of the most affected counties. Something was done at the level of the national government to help the people countrywide. The parish also did her best at her level to help the people by sharing what was brought in as contribution for the needy in the church. Fr Adolf Pöll mhm in his usual generosity dug into his private pockets to see to it that many could have at least one meal a day. But it was a tough time for me as I went visiting their homes. ‘Going through dry fields to meet hungry families.’ I only kept on wishing the situation were different.
We were eagerly waiting for the long rains in April but they only came in May. With the financial help of Fr Adolf Pöll the parish bought seeds as the people prepared their farms again for planting. I passionately distributed them to the various mission stations who in turn shared with the families present there regardless of their religious affiliation. Early May this year the rains came. Since then it has rained seemingly in compensation for what was lost. The farms are green again and there is hope for a great harvest. I am happy we lived through this but would not wish for it ever to occur again. At times hard work does not pay off just as one might expect. I have learned hard lessons the hard way. To have survived this period is to say really God works in mysterious ways. LET THE LORD DO HIS WORK.
Ndzedzeni Patrick Bongmoyong mhm, student on MEP