This is a story written by my friend Debbie Ginder. Debbie and her husband, Carl have spent time in Zimbabwe as missionaries. I have been blessed by thier friendship and when I read this story I asked Debbie if I could share it here. It is a beautiful story about FAITH! When they were in Zimbabwe we were able to communicate via e-mail every so often. Debbie would share her experiences with us through her beautiful writings. I fell in love with Africa and her people through these writings. My heart was pricked for God’s people there. We came to know one of the families that Debbie and Carl ministered to. I have a letter from them, along with some things that they made. Every so often I will pull the letter out, smell it, touch it, and ask God where they are and what they are doing. I wonder if they are alive, if they are hungry, if they are safe or if they are in the arms of God. My heart wishes to meet them and one day we will. If not here, then in the heavenlies.
Thank you Debbie, for weaving your story into ours. We are blessed to know you.
Put The Pot On The Fire
by Debbie Ginder
This is a true story that happened to our neighbors in Zimbabwe, Africa, during the famine and political oppression taking place in 2002. I’ve written the story from the viewpoint of the family’s teenage daughter.
I lie here on my grass mat, trying not to think about tomorrow. Baboons are barking in the moonlight on the mountain called Lupathi. I’ll think about Lupathi instead. It’s made of granite, hard and heavy, like these days in which I live. I climbed that mountain long ago, and from the top, I saw my world, this painful-beauty place. I memorized the scene: Zimbabwe’s winter sky of cloudless blue reaching down to touch the thornveldt, brown and dusty from its want of summer rains. I could see the tiny roof of our house, the school, the church, and the villages of our friends, all scattered throughout the bush. My whole world lay before me, and it looked very small.
I stood there staring until the shadows grew long, then plucked a single remembrance of the climb—a dead twig from the resurrection plant. My mother told me it will turn green again if I give it water. Who believes such things?
That was a year of drought, but people didn’t starve. The large, commercial farms had irrigation systems and grew enough corn and wheat to feed our country and several others. My mother had only to walk the short distance to the rural shops and buy grain. My father carried it to the miller who ground it into mealie-meal, and we didn’t die.
But this year is a year of famine, and people are dying. People are always dying in this place— from malaria, from tuberculosis, from that dreaded disease whose name they will not even mention, but now they’re also dying from starvation. My mother is a teacher, so we have a house near the school. That doesn’t give us food. My father is far away, studying at university. He can’t help us now.
I lie on my grass mat in the darkness, still trying not to think about tomorrow. Tomorrow… when the sack of mealie-meal will be empty and there’s nothing more for us to eat. Why must we starve? We did what we could. We planted our corn in season and waited for the rains. They didn’t come. I watched the small, green shoots of maize push through the earth by faith, but they wilted, curled brown, and death-rattled when the hot winds blew.
The commercial farms that saved us years ago don’t exist now. The government has gone mad and destroyed them, so there is no grain to buy. Not in our small shops, not in those big stores in the city. There is nothing, people tell us, even if we had much money. Nothing.
Mother’s voice calls me into the pale-white light of morning. I hear the rhythmic swish of the tree branch she uses to sweep the clay yard clean. “Put water in the pot, “she directs me. “Put the pot on the fire.”
I walk outside through the soon-to-disappear morning coolness and pour water into the three-legged black pot. I lift it onto the small, open fire that is our kitchen and stare into the flame. The dusky breath of other fires permeates the bush, and I wish this moment would last forever.
Mother brings the sack of cornmeal and pours its precious white contents into the pot, shaking the bag until not even dust comes out of it. My hope dies. It was not a bad dream after all. With a wooden paddle, Mother tends the bubbling porridge, bending low over it, watching and stirring until it’s ready. She spoons some into my sister’s aluminum bowl, my brother’s, then mine. None for herself, and none for the baby who’s still fast asleep in the sling on her back. The small remainder Mother will save for our lunch—our last lunch.
The sun has just popped over the edge of the world, so I crouch in the scrappy shadow of a small tree and stare at the food in my bowl. It is plain because there is no sugar in our country these days. Oh, if there were brown sugar and a yellow lemon to squeeze over it, what a feast that would be! But the pale, watery porridge stares blankly back at me, and I eat it decisively, to show it that I can.
It’s past noon now, and the sand roads are searing-white under my shoes as I walk home from school. Waves of heat bounce off the ground and jump up to snatch away my breath. My friends walk beside me, but we talk and move slowly in this hottest month of the year. I’m careful not to tell them of our plight at home. That’s how we do it here. When the last of the food has been eaten and the young grow weak, they simply stop coming to school. Everyone knows the story then, so there’s no need to tell it now.
I eat my tiny lunch alone, hardly thinking. Eat the few bites mechanically, as if there will be more. I lie down on the floor, searching for any coolness that may be hiding in the gray concrete. There is none. Numbly, I listen to the whisper-breathing of Mother and the young ones. Rest is good. What else can one do in this oppressive heat and hunger? We rest and wait. Wait for the sun to move toward Lupathi. Then the shadows will grow, and we can come to life again, if only long enough to die.
I must have fallen asleep, for Mother’s voice seems far away. I open my eyes and see the golden light of late afternoon brightening the doorway. Mother’s thin frame suddenly interrupts the light. “Come,” she says softly. “Come outside into the shadow of the house.”
My siblings are there already, squatting in the shade, listening. I join them.
Mother’s face is neither sad nor frightened. Her voice is strong and sure. Perhaps some miracle has happened. But who believes such things?
“Children,” she says boldly, looking straight into our eyes, “God fed that prophet Elijah when he was in the wilderness with no food to be had. God knows that we’re in the wilderness, and He’s able to feed us, even here. We must pray. We must pray for our daily food and believe that God will answer us.”
What is she saying? I rehearse the words in my mind. Yes, that is what she’s saying. Mother truly believes that God will feed us when there is nothing! She truly believes that He will care for us, even if He must send a bird to drop us meat from the cloudless sky! I bow my head as she begins to pray.
The prayer is finished. Mother takes the baby from her back and lays him in my arms. She smiles at the little ones, then turns to me and gives direction. I see a quiet light shining in her eyes, a light unshaded by doubt.
“Put water in the pot,” she says. “Put the pot on the fire. I’ll go and see what God will do.”
With that, Mother turns and walks away. Stunned, I stare after her until she’s indistinguishable from the gray-brown bush.
I tie the baby securely onto my back and watch the young ones play. I know they must be hungry. I am. But they don’t complain. Mother said God will feed us, and they believe her.
As the sun slips closer to Lupathi, I scan the veldt for signs of Mother. Nothing. Restless, I go into the house and stare out at the silent, darkening mountain. What am I to do? What if I put the pot on the fire and Mother never returns? What if I put the pot on the fire and she comes home with nothing? What am I to do?
The mountain remains silent. I remember how small we look from its top. Does God see more than the roof of our house?
I have heard that we must act upon our faith. But which faith shall I act upon? The faith that God can’t help us? Or the faith that He’ll bring us food?
I make the choice and walk outside. The water splashes silver as I pour it into the three-legged black pot. The young ones hear and come to watch. I lift the pot onto the fire and stare into the flame.
I’m not sure how much time has passed since Mother left. The shadows are very long, and the mountain is very dark. The children are very tired, and the water is very hot. Will a bird drop meat into the pot? I stare into the cloudless sky and ponder how God might help us. My thoughts are interrupted by a shout.
She’s coming. Mother is coming, and on her head is a sack of mealie-meal.
As I help Mother lower her wonderful burden to the ground, she laughs with joy and tells me snatches of the story. She was walking along the sand roads, watching and praying for God’s provision. She had walked far and was weary when she heard the car. Cars are rare here, so Mother turned to look. The driver saw her face and stopped. He is my father’s friend, a friend who had promised to help care for us. He was just coming from the city, where by some miracle he’d found a bit of mealie-meal. When Mother told him the situation, he spoke of his promise to my father and gave her food for our household.
Mother pours some of the white treasure into the boiling water, and we praise God together. It doesn’t matter that there is no brown sugar and yellow lemon. There is food. God knows we’re in this wilderness. He can feed us even here, one meal at a time.
Weeks have passed since the tomorrow I dreaded so much. Every day we pray for food and put the pot on the fire. Every day God brings us something. There has not been one day when He has left us with nothing.
I finally put the dead twig of the resurrection plant into a cup of water. It’s good to look at something green.
( top photo from internet, woman with basket-by Donna)