I was back out there weeding our fruit and vegetable garden the other day, and so pleased to see little baseball-sized melons coming in among the vines. They had been planted last Spring, along with the rest of our garden, by our friend Fábio. I watered and nurtured them as they grew, and then the friends who stayed at our house from June through August faithfully continued. They should be ready for harvest around October. I love fresh melon on a hot day and as I tended their delicate vines, I savoured the thought of eating them in just a month or so.
Then I realized we’ll probably be away when they ripen. You see, we’re flying up to Germany on October 11 for Steiger’s annual gathering of its leaders and workers from around the world, and then continuing on to the US for our daughter’s wedding, which will be followed by some visiting and speaking. We’ll only return to Portugal in early November. Other friends, who have so graciously offered to stay here at our house and care for our animals during our absence, will hopefully get to enjoy the melons (though there still may be some around in November)!
When we planted the garden back in March and April, our intention was to be here throughout the summer to enjoy its fruits. The first radishes, lettuce and strawberries were ready to consume in May, while Denny was on tour with No Longer Music. I was here at home alone then, and relished each plant’s yield! I so enjoy eating the fruits of our labor, fresh from the ground!
But summer plans radically changed, as they sometimes do when you live a bit like the wind and are willing to go – or stay – where and when you’re needed. We had intended to be at Steiger’s Missions School for ten days in June and then return to Portugal. But due to an unexpected chain of events, we were asked to remain there and help out on staff until the third week of August… and we accepted. Because of this, the remainder of our lovely garden’s harvest – the abundant tomatoes of many varieties, the carrots and zucchinis, the rest of the lettuce and strawberries, and a couple trees worth of figs – all matured while we were out of the country and were enjoyed by others.
As I considered the fact that we would now also miss out on eating the melons (all the while carefully pulling away the weeds winding themselves around their vines), I thought of how often we’ve experienced this in our lives. Over these past thirty-one years in Southern Europe, we have faithfully plowed, sown, planted, watered, weeded and pruned. We’ve tried to be obedient to all we’ve felt God calling us to, always hopeful and expectant of the fruit to be harvested – of seeing young people’s lives impacted by the Gospel of Christ, transformed by His grace and mercy. But we are pioneers. And more often than not, just when things begin to get rolling and the fields become white for harvest, we are called onward to begin to plow some other rocky terrain.
When I reflect on the great fathers of our faith: those who went before us, risking all, trusting God,
following where He led,
walking in faith – often blindly – towards what He had promised, I’m reminded that they too
did not personally reap
the harvest nor enjoy the fruits of their labor on most occasions. Yet they obeyed and they went where and when God called them, grateful and joyful to have been chosen by the Giver of Life for such a task. Hebrews 11, verse 13 tells of them:
All these people were still living by faith when they died.
They did not receive the things promised;
they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,
admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
It may not often be our privilege to reap the harvest and enjoy those tasty, freshly gathered fruits, but I am so thankful for the life we have been given to live. I know I write that here quite often, but it is absolutely the truth. Denny and I gladly prepare the ground wherever we are, digging out the stones and pulling up the weeds, planting, watering and pruning. And without a doubt, there has been many a time when others have come, as our friends did this summer, and tended the garden on our behalf, preventing those tender plants from withering away due to thirst or from being choked by weeds, when we were unable to do so.
Each of us has been gifted and called. And whether we’ve been commissioned to a glorious and very visible task, or simply to mop up a mess or clean up the debris left behind by a storm, we are privileged to serve the one true God and to walk in His footsteps, to obey and to carry out his bidding. What a joy to be co-workers in the service of the Master Farmer, the one who makes things grow!
So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything,
but only God, who makes things grow.
The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose,
and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.
For we are co-workers in God’s service;
you are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 3:7-9