“After your first winter here, people will treat you differently,” Jill said to me after I first arrived in Lesotho in 2007. Jill was the missionary I was working with. She had lived in Lesotho a few years already. I was the new kid on the block.
Sure enough, people in the mountains were always nice to me, but there was something stopping them from being too nice. A little hesitation.
As winter came and went, not as fast or easily as I just wrote those five words, but with its slow, bitterly cold nights and mornings, and its days spent just trying to get warm, peoples attitude to me warmed like the spring sun.
What was different? Pre-winter me to post-winter me? Nothing really. I had learnt that life wasn’t easy here. But I was pretty much the same.
In the eyes of the mountain people though, I had endured what they endure year after year. I had seen it for myself, and experienced what that part of their lives was like. And in doing this, I had proved to them I wasn’t just there as a tourist, enjoying the warm green summer mountains. I was there for something else.
This year, one of the programs Mission Aviation Fellowship has been supporting is the Lesotho Flying Pastors. The intention of this ministry is for pastors from Lesotho, mostly based in the city, to go out to the isolated villages where MAF fly, and pastor the Basotho people. Building relationships with people who don’t ever get to hear about such radical things as ‘Love your neighbor,’ or ‘There is a God who knows you and loves you.’ Their aim is to reach places no one else reaches. This year so far, they have done 3 successful visits to a village in the north-east of Lesotho called Tlhanyaku. They visit every month, for a week at a time, visiting people in their homes, praying with them, teaching them, and sharing with them a little of who Jesus is.
So far, their reports have been positive. They have been welcomed to the villages, and asked to return. The pastors come back to Maseru excited at what God is doing with them in these places.
April has been a little different.
I dropped them off last Thursday. I was due to return later that day with an extra load of equipment for them. A wood heater, some extra blankets, and things like that. Things they could manage without, but would prefer not to.
I didn’t get back there on Thursday afternoon. Or Friday morning. In fact, the weather system that pulled over Lesotho brought rain and cold from Thursday afternoon, solid until what looks like Wednesday afternoon. 6, or lets just say 7 days at this point, of solid rain and cold. No airplanes could even attempt getting close to bring them back, or to take more supplies.
We received a message from them about halfway through their visit, saying that they were “not able to do anything,” and “we are ready to go home anytime.”
This got me thinking. Previous visits, their reports were positive, they knew what they had accomplished. This time, in their view, they had not accomplished anything.
I couldn’t help but think they were wrong about this.
I can only think that after a week of being cold, and wet, and not being able to do anything easily, they are witnessing first hand what it’s like to be in Tlhanyaku. To be a villager in the mountains, where weather dictates what you will do today, and where nothing comes easy. These pastors, as much as they may have wanted to go home immediately, are witnessing something, and gaining respect among those to whom they preach.
It causes me to reflect on what Jesus did. Besides the earth-shattering sacrifice of Jesus dying on the cross, Jesus also lived with us. He endured more than 30 years of human struggles. Hot summers no doubt, and cold winters. Hungry nights and parched days. Jesus didn’t sit above us and tell us how to live. He lived beside us, showing us He wasn’t just a tourist to earth, here to enjoy its fruits and exiting when things got hard. He showed us that He was one of us, and that He understood what it’s like to be human.
The pastors, as they await their MAF airplane to get them back to a dry house, where they can buy food at the grocery store, will hopefully reflect on what it’s like to be a Tlhanyaku villager.
And as they go out and build relationships with them on their next visit, I won’t be surprised if next time the villagers greet them with more enthusiasm than ever before, knowing that the pastors ‘get it.’