John E. Holtz
A diseased leaf drops to the ground.
A twig falls. Clinging to the twig is a mysterious looking sack of tiny eggs.
A dead branch is removed with a firm grip and a twist of the wrist.
The one doing the snipping and snapping is Faidal Kubala Beza. Or more accurately said, he used to do it. After all, it was his job some years back. Faidal was in the northern region of Malawi working on a tea and macadamia nut plantation called Kawalazi Estates. As a grounds laborer, Faidal pruned the tea bushes. As a field scouter, he inspected and monitored the bushes and trees for invasive insects, damaging diseases, and unhealthy foliage. And as a field supervisor, he, well, supervised fields to make sure all was growing well.
Faidal had an eye for things that ravaged, destroyed, and hindered; he had a heart for life and growth and fruit. He knew his job well. He understood what had to be done so that better things could be done. He believed what he was taught: Removing the bad fosters the growth of the good.
Hmmm . . . something sounds biblical about that, doesn’t it?
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:1,2).
Read it again if you have to, but note something important. It’s not just the fruitless branches that get cut, even the fruitful branches are pruned! Can’t you just see the Gardener at work in the undergrowth of our lives? With a keen eye, a loving heart and a skilled hand, he’s there—lifting; inspecting; and, when need be, cutting.
Faidal knows very well the purpose of pruning; he is equally familiar with the pain of being pruned.
Aren’t we all? Who has not felt the sharp edge of the Gardener’s shears? A snip here. A snap there. And all of a sudden, something is . . . well . . . gone. Removed. No longer part of our life.
Faidal graduated from the seminary in Lusaka, Zambia, in 2008. He then was assigned as a vicar to a small preaching station in northernmost Malawi—Karonga. In 2009 he was called, installed, and ordained as pastor at St. John’s in Chitala Village on the eastern edge of Malawi. By 2012 he was in the central region of Malawi, serving three congregations in the Kasungu area. Now in 2014, Faidal has recently taken up residence at Mwalaulomwe, having been called to serve three congregations in that parish union.
Within six years Faidal and his family have been in five places. Farewell sermons. Painful good-byes. Another door to close. Yet another congregation to leave.
The Gardener was at work.
“It was never pleasant,” Faidal recalls. And I agree, the shears never is.
If the Gardener removed anything from the Beza family, I have a hunch what it was: comfortableness.
Why do I think so? Well, consider this . . .
Each of the congregations that Faidal was serving struggled to fully support him and his family financially. At one point, Faidal was at a crucial crossroads. He was desperately concerned for the well-being of his family—even basic survival. He had to scrounge around just to provide daily meals for his wife, three children, and two dependents. He actually ended up selling some of his meager possessions in order to buy food.
Snip. Snip. Snap.
The comfortableness of life that Faidal and his classmates and their families had enjoyed while studying at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, Malawi, and the seminary during their six years of schooling was gone. The perks that came with campus living were removed the very day he and his classmates left the seminary campus. In one fell swoop, what had been provided to the students and families was gone: housing, water, electricity, gardens, maize, and a cash stipend.
These things were no longer so readily available. Though the calling congregations were responsible to provide these things, they didn’t always do what they said they would. Life for the Beza family just became . . . well . . . uncomfortable.
The glint off the blade of the shears was blinding.
Blinding, yes, but not to his eyes of faith. With those God-given eyes, Faidal could see something else.
With the eyes of faith he could see the loving hand of the Gardener, who was holding and using the shears for pruning his life.
When word of his struggles came out in the open, the Lord moved into action the hearts and hands of individuals and also our synod as a whole. Tangible help was given: salary support, housing allowance subsidy, and even a bicycle.
With such assistance, Faidal no longer had to be as consumed agonizingly with financial concerns for his family. Faidal could freely do the work to which he had been called: bringing God’s gospel to God’s people.
And talk about an opportunity to share the Word of God! Now that Faidal is living and serving at Mwalaulomwe, he has an automatic mission field coming to him every Thursday literally out his back door.
Each week, hundreds of women bring their children to the Malo a Chipatala Cha Lutheran Mobile Clinic (literally translated: the place of the hospital of the Lutheran Mobile Clinic). Morning devotions with the people mean they are reminded of the grace and mercy that comes new every day through Jesus.
So how are things going for Faidal and his family now?
Well, the gate is broken, the borehole needs fixing, the inside walls need paint, electricity needs hooking up, the windows need screens, and the outside kitchen needs air ventilation. But Faidal sees these things in a new light. Earthly comforts are nice but aren’t necessary; God, in Christ Jesus, promises so much more and so much better than those things. We have the comfort of the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting in a home prepared by Jesus himself.
To be sure, the pruning in his life hasn’t stopped. But neither has his faith.
Through Word and sacrament, the Lord keeps growing that faith. Interestingly, the name of the church where he serves now is Chikhulupiliro, which means “faith.”
In faith, with his eyes fixed on Jesus, the true vine, Faidal continues working in the fields. He’s laboring on God’s estate.
Faidal is confident that the Lord has an eye on the things that ravage, destroy, and hinder his people and at the same time has a heart for life and growth and fruit.
Like Faidal, the next time you feel a snip here and a snap there, take time to offer up a prayer of thanks. Let the pruning remind you that the Gardener is at work.
John Holtz is a missionary in Malawi, Africa.
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Author: John E. Holtz
Volume 102, Number 1
Issue: January 2015
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