Sugar Cane Shepherds

Laura (on the right) hangs out with co-YAGM, Taisha, during a recent retreat

Laura (on the right) hangs out with co-YAGM, Taisha, during a recent retreat

Laura reflects upon sugar cane farmers, shepherds, and God’s love for everyone:

Each week day morning and afternoon, my host father goes to a farm to lead a devotion for the farm workers. There are about ten different farms that he ministers to around the area I am living in. Each different farm is run and owned by white farmers who provide housing and wages for the black African farm workers and their families. The work they do depends on which growth phase the sugar cane is in. Most of the work is difficult physical labor including: planting, weeding, hoeing, cutting, burning, hauling, and packing onto the trucks.

Some days I wake up and go with my host father, and as much as I am not a “morning person” and love to sleep in, I have begun to look forward to these particular mornings. We leave our house at about half past five, with a coffee mug in hand. We drive through the foggy, mist covered dirt roads that my father has driven thousands of times. I however, cannot usually tell where we are going, as the vast fields of sugar cane are all I can see through each side window of the car. When we arrive, we greet the workers and I lead one of the isiZulu songs that my host siblings have taught me. My father then shares scripture and a message, and I end the devotion with a prayer which my father translates into isiZulu for the workers.

This past week the scripture for the devotion came from Luke 2:8-12:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

The farm workers are like the shepherds. They do not get recognition or praise for the work they do, but it is some of the most important work in the community. Without the harvest these workers do, other people in the sugar cane factories would not have work either. Therefore, I would argue that these beginning stages are the most important, because they are the start to the long process the cane goes through, ensuring jobs for so many South Africans. The work the farmers do is seen as the lowest of jobs by other Africans. However, these workers are committed day after day in order to provide for their families and communities.

And God comes to these people, just like he came to the shepherds. He comes to bring them good news, and says that this good news is for ALL people. Economic or social status does not matter when God sends His angels to share the joy of Jesus Christ. The shepherds hurry off to Bethlehem to witness this good news they have heard, and in Luke 2:20, they return back glorifying and praising God for the joy of the birth of Jesus Christ.

There is hope for each one of the farm workers I worship with during my time here. And there is hope for all people in South Africa, and in the world, because of the day when the angel came to the shepherds in the fields. In this Advent season, through  our struggles, we can live and wait in hope for the Christ who comes to ALL of us, regardless of our background.

I know Christmas will be different over here, much simpler than the past ones I have celebrated in Minnesota which have good intentions but are often filled with an over-abundance of food, unnecessary consumerism, and plenty to distract me from the reason we celebrate Christmas. I am anxious to see how the traditions, church services, meals, and family time over  here will reflect what we are truly celebrating, Christ’s birth. The first Christmas in Bethlehem was so very simple, and I am hopeful that Christmas here will be filled with that simple mindset of the one who comes to bring us everlasting joy.

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