Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
Come ye thankful people come, raise the song of harvest home:
all is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied:
come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.
The harvest moon comes a bit early in Karamoja. We don’t wait for the autumnal equinox around here, we take our moon in late August or early September. You might see maize or sorghum drying in the sun inside a home or on the side of the road in Namalu, but the real giveaway is the small children chewing on the cornstalks (sweet like sugarcane). When this starts to happen, it’s only a few days until the noisy late-night dances in the village begin in earnest which mark the celebration of the harvest.
We have these celebrations also in metropolitan America. Turkey and pumpkin pie, and perhaps apples and dried corn-on-the-cob spilling out of a wicker cornucopia. We go to the market to buy these things, trucked in from the four corners. And while we eat them in these ways on Thanksgiving, if we were inclined, we could eat the same in March or May, or any day of the year. Even as missionaries, we have our canned vegetables, our wheat flour and macaroni, and can reproduce any part of our diet almost year-round. This is yet another way we are separated from our neighbors. Our gazing at the sky does not bear the same anxious expectation, and we don’t feel the immanence of the harvest in our bellies as they do. Managing the farm project is therefore, a rich source of reflection, and a step toward an understanding that is better on par with our neighbors.
Farming, I feel the rain and the hot, dry wind more keenly than I used to. This year, I constantly ran through the calculations of how much we would need to harvest to make up our investment in seed and in wages. How many pods did one person have to harvest in a day to meet their own wage? How many weeks would the harvest have to continue before we broke even? As the song says, “God our maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied.” In the end, God supplied everything that we needed for the farm this year. Not only in bags upon bags of beans, but in good laborers and overseers.
I felt often this year as though we were fighting the weather. Too much heavy rain during planting, too overcast and cool during weeding, too hot and dry at the harvest. Despite these setbacks (and the sinful tendency to complain), God blessed us with a decent harvest this year, all the more remarkable because many of our neighbors had poor yields. From just over ten acres planted, we harvested 3,700 pounds of mung beans. It was enough that, at current market prices, the farm covered its costs this year with a bit of surplus (the actual fate of these beans has yet to be decided). More importantly, we employed 500 people for some portion of the season (a day, a week, or even a month at a time). We put five million shillings into the hands of our neighbors for their contributions to the work. Despite a mediocre year, our farm was, by all indications, a success, which fact we give thanks to God for. Raise the song of harvest home.
Mung beans have proven themselves to be well-situated to our climate and our soil. They are moderately drought resistant, hard to steal, and labor intensive to harvest and process, which means we can offer a great deal of employment to the community. We planted ten acres this year, but the mission has about 30 acres of agricultural land that might be planted, which means we could triple our production next year and offer work to many more. If the year is even marginally better in terms of rainfall, we stand to make a reasonable profit which could be put toward other mission activities. While this is wonderful news, and the mere material assistance that the farm project provides is, to my mind, a most worthy occupation for the mission, we miss so much potential if we let the farm remain on this level. Why not smuggle some good old-fashioned Christianity into our poverty alleviation activities?
All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto his praise to yield;
wheat and tares together sown, unto joy or sorrow grown:
first the blade, and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear:
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.
Most everyone who came to work this year was present for daily devotions on the mission. They heard Bible teaching in their own language, and most often presented by a fellow Karimojong. Most people were invited to come to prayers on Sunday, and a number even responded to these invitations. These things add to the regular teaching and ministry that goes on in many of the villages from which our laborers came this year. We have lately been teaching through Acts, showing how, through the Holy Spirit, the Church grew from the seed planted in Jesus’ death into great and fruitful tree. In the farm, together with its many other ministries, the mission has scattered the seed of the Gospel in the soil of human hearts. We have planted. Perhaps another will water, but God will give the fruit.
As in our understanding and practice of farming, there is much potential for growth as we seek to integrate farming into the larger Gospel-oriented goals of the mission. Just as the farmer sowing seeds was almost obscenely prodigal in his scattering, so we ought to be as extravagant in our proclamation. More people, more time, more opportunities. While the mission is literally farming ten acres in southern Karamoja, we are also engaged as laborers in God’s cosmic field. Just as the harvest must be brought in before the storms come (or in our case, the raking winds of dry season), so we know that a storm is coming—the storm of God’s judgement casting the tares into the fire. And so we must labor faithfully and tirelessly in his strength to bring in all of God’s harvest ahead of that day.
For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take his harvest home;
from his field shall in that day all offenses purge away;
give his angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast,
but the fruitful ears to store in his garner evermore.
As the harvest moon makes its transit, as we hear the dancing and singing through the night, our labor continues until that true harvest is finished. We pray that in their celebrations, our neighbors will come to know the true source of their abundance, and more than that, that they would celebrate not just with posho or sorghum stalks, but that they would feast on the true bread and true drink that Christ offers to us in his own body and blood—that terrible nourishment which will ripen and ready us unto God’s eternal store.
Even so, Lord, quickly come to thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin;
there forever purified, in thy presence to abide:
come, with all thine angels, come, raise the glorious harvest home.