Well Watered Gardens in a Sun Scorched Land

Karla Jay shared a devotional at the New England Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions in Castleton Vermont.

The Lord will guide you always.

he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land

and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

like a spring whose waters never fail.

Isaiah 58:11

In the last month I have been able to visit two very different places the first place was Turkana County in Kenya. I was there to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Friends Mission in that area. During my time there I came across this verse and I prayed that this verse would become true in their lives. You see Turkana is a desert, it has not rained there in over a year, and they had not seen their previous rain in over a year before then. The area is very arid, hot, and dry. That was the hottest place I have ever visited. It is a place with an abundance of sand and rocks with very little vegetation. The meaning of a sun scorched land became very vivid to me after that visit.  

The second place I visited was a few days ago on our way to these sessions from Indiana. My husband and I decided to take one of our breaks on our road trip in Niagara Falls. I am sure, with the falls being so close, many of you are familiar with the area. But bear with me the description of the area, is a place with so much water, its very green and there are vineyards around. The amount and strength of water is an overwhelming experience. In fact, this area of the country has so much water that you’ve had floods and many of us on our way here experience a strong storm.  This area of the world has been blessed with sufficient water.  

In the verse in Isaiah God is calling us to be a well-watered garden in a sun scorched land. It’s possible to be a beautiful vineyard in the area of Niagara Falls. But it is impossible to be a well-watered garden in a sun scorched land like Turkana.

I would like us to think about two images and how God is calling us to be like them. The first image is of Turkana women. While I was there, I observed that people specially women and children spend most of their lives looking for and carrying water. The struggle for the acquisition of water is something that occupies much of their day. They wake up very early in the morning to fetch water from far away places. It's a physically demanding, time-consuming responsibility and one that almost always falls to females. It takes a lot to carry a 40 pound can of water, walking several miles in the desert.

An NPR article titled: Millions Of Women Take A Long Walk With A 40-Pound Water Can, describes the lives of the Turkana women they found that in all of the countries, in households where a family member had to spend more than 30 minutes to collect water, the primary collectors were women, ranging from 46 percent in Liberia to 90 percent in the Ivory Coast. When the chore is a kid's job, there's still a major gender gap: 62 percent for girls versus 38 percent for boys. The research uncovered that in these countries, there are an estimated 13.54 million women (and 3.36 million children) who are responsible for water collection trips that take 30 minutes or longer.  

It all starts with who is doing the job. That's typically an adult woman, above 15, Because of widespread gender inequality, females are saddled with most of the unpaid chores.

To collect the water, she likely carries a jerry can, a bright yellow plastic container that was originally filled with cooking oil. It's been cleaned out and then repurposed for water storage. If it's full, it holds 5 gallons and weighs about 40 pounds. In many places in sub-Saharan Africa, the woman is probably just holding the can and not using a wheelbarrow that could be rolled home.

Why more women collecting water don't simply pick one of these fewer taxing methods. It's because they can't, due to uneven terrain" with obstacles along the way. If the terrain is just right, they might be lucky enough to roll their cans home.

Another obstacle is that the path to the water source may change frequently. Before setting off, a woman must figure out which pump she can visit to acquire water on that particular day. There are seasonal shortages and rations that may complicate this decision — and lengthen the trip. "In times of scarcity, the journey time can be quite long. They may spend half an hour coming there and another half hour back.

Once a woman gets to a water source, she can expect to spend even more time waiting in line. When there's just a single hand pump, progress is slow. It's common to leave a jerry can to hold your spot, because there can be rows stretching out for many feet. If the woman lives close enough, she may return home to do domestic chores. If not, she may just hang out.

Then comes the hard part: taking the water home.  

It's not necessarily a single trip for water each day. Depending on the size of the family and the household's needs — like laundry, for instance — women may take several of these trips on the same day. Water might only be available during a certain window, they need to rush, and can't pace.

Even if a woman finishes her water collection duties without aches and pains, there's a good chance she's exhausted. And there are still plenty of other domestic tasks on her to-do list. There usually isn't enough time to finish it all by bedtime, which is why women often sleep less than men. "There is evidence that women may sleep fewer hours than men in response to the time demands of their various tasks,"

There are also health implications of water collection in Africa, carrying these heavy loads on one's head is associated with a particular pain pattern, with discomfort in the upper back and hands and an increased risk of headaches.

The women of Turkana never stop working for the acquisition of water for their families.

The second image that I would like us to think about is the shrubs I saw in Turkana.  

As you can imagine most of the landscape was sandy and rocky with very little greenery around. But there were these small shrubs, what surprised me about them is that they were very green, a vivid green. Around here, if it stops raining for a few weeks, the plants and trees starts looking gloomy and yellow. But these shrubs have been without water for over a year. They are distantly spread out throughout the landscape, and they have thorns. You can see the brownish yellow sand and unexpectedly a green shrub would be thriving there. The green is very bright as if someone had been watering it.

These shrubs are essential in Turkana since they feed the goats, the only cattle that can survive in these conditions. Thanks to these shrubs people have goat meat and milk to consume. The goats are sturdy enough to not mind the thorns in the shrubs and eat the bushes.  

God is calling us to be like the women and the shrubs in Turkana.  

This world is more like Turkana, in which the injustices are as infinite as the sand of the desert. But is in that sun scorched place that God is calling us to thrive and be a well-watered garden. We are called to be persistent like the women in Turkana, never neglecting their duty of carrying water. We shall not neglect our duty of seeking justice and peace.  

Our society is full of inequalities and injustices, now more than ever we are called to be like that green shrub in the middle of the Turkana desert. Sure, it might feel lonely at times, it might feel like the task is never ending and not worth it, but we are called to be persistent, to persist in our search for justice. To be a sign of hope like those lonely green shrubs in the middle of the sandy and rocky desert.

The world needs our message of peace and reconciliation. I really commend the work you are doing here in New England of listening.  You are like the Turkana women looking for that well of water, listening, diligently doing the work. The work is vast and needs to continue, there are immigrant families that are still being separated, there are brothers that are still being murdered in our streets, by those who are supposed to protect us, our children are dying at the hands of gun violence in their places of learning, the truth is being censored through our education systems. The work is never ending, but we are called to be persistent. I believe that someday justice will roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! Like a Niagara fall of justice.  

To end I would like to read one of my favorite stories of Jesus, where he talks to a woman at a water well.  

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

I love this story of the Samaritan women because as she was doing the work that women have done through out the centuries, she found Jesus. There were so many reasons why Jesus shouldn’t have been talking to this woman according to the norms of his society, but Jesus broke these prejudicial and unjust norms of his time. She was a woman, she was Samaritan, we can assume she had been the victim of the circumstances in her life as she had had five husbands and she was of a lower class as she was doing the chore of fetching the water. We also see Jesus promise that the Spirit will come to all humanity and that there will be truth.  

I would like to leave these queries for you to ponder:

  • How are you seeking that water of life?  
  • Do you have faith that your life can be like a spring of water welling up to eternal life and that justice will roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream?
  • Can you be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fails in a sun scorched land?

August 12, 2023