One of my many treasured memories is tilling my Mom’s patch of soil. Yes. Kulima na jembe. The land my Dad bought was in one of the leafy locations on the outskirts of Nairobi. Those ones that sat on a minimum of an acre? You know them? Where neighbours are far between, but near enough for you to know their dogs and other domestic animals? Yes? Ok. There! </p>
Now, this land was extremely fertile. The previous owner had really not done much with it and had opted to only plant avocados. Many of them. Before i continue, let me tell you about those avocados. They were amazing! Yanni one bite and you’d be huko thanking God for the manure, the soil, the roots, the stem, the branches and leaves of each tree!! Yaani those avocados!! Kashaya! Endebosa!! Mhhhh!!! (No translation available…). Anyway… the land was full of avocados……..and weeds.
We were still dancing in excitement when some one (a “nani”) put ideas in my Mother’s head and let’s just say, she decided this idea of having a house surrounded by avocados was not her style. I mean, which self respecting Kenyan mother, wife to a man from greater Nyanza will not want chingoko, managu, terere, chinsaga and chibando? So….before we knew which side was North, there was a plan in place! The land was fenced, the staff quarters built and then, boom! We were put to work.
Do you remember that song that used to play at around 6:00am every single day in the 80’s? “Nahata wewe mwanangu, amka kumekucha… kamata jembe na panga, twende shamba…” (Loosely translated – “Psst!!! Boy get up! Pick up your implements, the farm will not till itself!!”) Baaaassss! That song materialised haraka upesi! (as in, fast fast). In no time, our Saturday after school plans consisted of head scarfs, old skirts, gum boots and jembes! Remember this place only had avocado trees and weeds before this, eh? And now, my mother wanted her maize and beans in the soil before the next short rains. Wueh! Let me tell you… Tulilima! Nail polish and all! That fallow ground had to be broken into. I remember thinking my parents did not like us at all. In fact i was convinced we were born to provide cheap labor. There was no way my mother was tilling that land alone, never ever! We used to arrive, change and wait to be shown our portion for the day, usually described as “from here to theeeere….. where the stone will land”.
The process of breaking fallow ground is as tedious as it is exciting. The sound of the jembe hitting the ground, tearing through thick grass, weeds and roots is satisfying at a level i can’t explain. We toiled over several weeks and slowly, but surely, the soil was turned. We then went over it one more time but this time, digging holes into which we dropped seeds and manure then pushing back the soil with our feet. I will not even start on the weeding process.
In Jeremiah 4:3, the Prophet Jeremiah was reciting a lamentation over the House of Israel, calling them back to repentance – to turn their wayward hearts back to the Lord. Since the House of Israel were predominantly farmers, they were familiar with the principle of resting land for a year between harvests then returning to till and sow it. They therefore understood, very well i must add, exactly what Jeremiah was communicating. He was simply telling them that their hearts had been overrun by weeds and in desperate need of attention. The beauty of the message is hidden in the words “fallow ground”.
Because fallow ground describes land that had previously been fertile and productive and which, with effort and resilience, can be turned back into a fruitful field. But, that’s not all. We go on to understand that this will need hard work! It is obvious (at least a reading of the Bible will show) that the House of Israel had gotten into the habit of playing hide and seek with the Lord – One season they would walk in obedience and the very next, bow to idols only to return in the wake of a disaster, war, captivity or Prophetic warnings.
As i meditated on this word, i realised how easy it is for our hearts to turn fallow. It does not take much by the way. It can be as subtle as a hidden offence, or even understandable, nice things like general busyness of life (life ni ku-hustle bana), or worse still, as acceptable as reading books more than the word and hearing the preacher more than the Holy Spirit. Even more dangerous is the justification we give for our state- after all, we all agree that the land must rest to restore fertility levels, right? So, we go around saying how you’re taking time off to “sit back and exhale”. Meanwhile? Weeds are sprouting! Remember the land was fertile, so the weeds will grow like crazy. By the time we realise, we have a bumper harvest, but not of a thriving spiritual life, no! Of a prayer-less, word-less, fellowship- less life. Yaani, Meh!!
So now? What to do?
Kamata jembe na panga, twende shamba! Break up that ground, eradicate the weeds and get back on the path to fruitfulness. By all means, do not get back to sowing seed until all the thorns have been cleared. Like a farmer, do one thing before you move to the next. Slowly but surely, rebuild your spiritual life. It will take hard work and you will definitely face resistance in the process. But keep going.
Realise that God always calls us to repentance because he loves us and desires that we walk in fellowship with Him. Just like we assisted my mother, God has given us a Helper, His Holy Spirit to guide us as we weed out the nasty and turn the soil of our hearts over so that we can bear much fruit. It’s not easy, i repeat. Some areas will need more than a machete and may require tractors to uproot tree stumps. But he promised that when we call on him, he will answer and show us great things. And the beauty is that once he is done with us, it’s a complete, 100% restoration. I encourage you to trust him.
It is worth it in the end. I promise.
Prayer: Lord, i realise my heart is overrun by weeds and tares and that your word is no longer yielding fruit. Forgive me and by your Holy Spirit, break up the fallow ground of my heart that i may bear fruits of righteousness. Amen