The dark-soiled land was rich with promise. As they stood on the property line looking across the verdant valley carpeted with cabbage and hills of slim trees whispering with the breeze, the 30 Batwa families could scarcely believe this was their new home. Each man had a plastic grocery bag with the family’s belongings – a cooking pot, some salt, maybe the metal head of a rusted hoe or some cups. Other than that, they had only what hung on their thin frames, like picked over clothes left on a clearance rack. Their eyes were hungry for this sweet land.
The first six months of our combined community development efforts wore us all down. Land cleared for homes, loam planted with cassava, sweet potatoes, carrots, ground watered with new irrigation pipes across the hills. The families rotated through the local clinic for malaria treatment. We faced leadership challenges and all manner of novice pitfalls. But they harvested their first crops and had enough to share with equally famished neighbors.
The next growing season came and they tried new crops – potatoes, corn, even mushrooms. Many families planted gardens with tomatoes and beans on their plots. Soon we noticed banana trees and other local fruit varieties planted and growing. By the end of the second year this community had reached food security. (And they continued the habit of sharing the surplus with their neighbors.)
Eventually the community saved enough money to invest in livestock like rabbits and goats. They wanted cows, but on the eve of purchasing one they realized they needed grass to feed the cows. So they held off on the cow and planted grass instead. It wasn’t long before they were ready for three cows. Our Batwa friends love their cows; it runs deep in their blood.
For these friends, this was the first time they ever tasted milk. In the life before Matara, where they lived like slaves to other landowners, they were lucky to get dirty water to drink. Now they stood on their own land, rich with vegetation, and drank milk from their own cows.
The women brought their bright colored plastic cups forward and the chief of the cow-milking poured from a pitcher into each cup. The cups went into the hands of the youngest children to give them strength. Mothers and fathers circled around, watching with pride as their children drank milk.
Once the children finished their portion, the remainder was divided among the same cups for the parents to share. The milk mustaches looked stunning across their chocolate skin. I vowed to never take a glass of milk for granted again after witnessing this stable-side ceremony.
Only a few months later when we visited one Saturday morning did the leaders show us their most recent innovation – seven bee hives. They decided to cultivate honey. Very carefully my husband followed them toward the buzzing hives and listened to their plans for taking the honey from hive to market.
I stood back a more reasonable distance and marveled at their determination to try new things and contribute to their local community. Then it hit me on the steep incline of Matara, my feet deep in the dirt, Matara had become the land of milk and honey!
I stood on Promised Land.
It was the third year of collaboration when cows came – and milk. Hives to generate honey. These things were considered luxury items by community development standards. Water was a necessity; milk a bonus. Honey was a sweetness we never imagined. But these families had arrived to a place of super-abundance, a land literally bursting with milk and honey.
For the first time I saw with my own eyes a land flowing with milk and honey. I finally caught a glimpse of what a lavish gift God promised to the slavery-weary Hebrews. I was humbled God gave the same abundance to my Batwa friends.
I also recognized that such goodness grew gradually over time, it didn’t happen overnight. The land had promise from day one. But it involved hard work, partnership, generosity and lots of sweat to make it to that third year. All the while, milk and honey were coming to Matara.
Maybe this is my way of encouraging all the practitioners out there to savor the goodness you see, cultivate it diligently over each season. And know that in time, abundance will arrive. It doesn’t come quick or easy, but that sweetness you can taste and see does come.
God still gives us land flowing with milk and honey. Trust me, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
Have you stood on a land flowing with milk and honey -(a super-abundance of some sort)?
For fellow community development practitioners out there – when did milk or honey come to your enterprise? When in the life of the community? Any stories to share… spill!
Kelley Nikondeha, community development practitioner in Burundi