But the grandfather said to her that she should put water in that cup, every single day, and something wonderful would happen. She was very confused about that, but she loved her grandfather very much, and so she agreed to put water in that cup, every single day.
At first, it was easy to do. She wanted to see what would happen! But days went by, and the dirt did not change, and even as she kept putting in the water, she grew more and more disappointed. She tried to keep her promise to her grandfather, but it became harder and harder. Sometimes, she would forget, and then she would have to get out of bed, get some water, and water the dirt. It was hard to remember, and she got very sick of doing it, but she had made a promise to her grandfather, and so she kept on putting water in the cup.
And then, one morning, she woke up, and there were bright green leaves sprouting from the dirt. She was astonished! Each day, they continued to grow and grow. She could not wait to tell her grandfather!
When he visited next, she ran to get the cup and brought it out to show her grandfather. “Look what happened, grandfather!” she said. Her grandfather explained to her that life is everywhere, potential is everywhere, hidden in the most ordinary and unlikely places. The girl was delighted. “And all it needs is water, grandfather?” she asked him. “No, my dear child,” he responded. “All it needs is your faithfulness.”
The girl watered that dirt, even when it seemed that nothing was happening. She was faithful and committed to that work. And even though she could not see it, something was happening beneath that soil. A plant was growing, a seed was sprouting, and finally, it emerged from the mud.
This is not my story; it comes from My Grandfather’s Blessings, by Rachel Naomi Remen. But I told this story in one of my first sermons, here in Zambia, when I was blessed to preach at the graduation ceremony for a group of new pastors, graduating from Chasefu Theological College. That was almost two years ago, and just yesterday, one of the pastors reminded me of my sermon.
Sitting in my living room, drinking sparkling juice and sharing stories, he asked me, “Do you remember that sermon you gave at Chasefu? At the graduation? Well, I remember it. I was just talking to one of the other reverends about that sermon. That really helped us. That really encouraged us a lot.” I thanked him for the kind words about a sermon I preached almost two years ago. A sermon about planting seeds, and not knowing if there is something growing underneath the dirt. And I wondered why he would bring it up on that day, when I spoke of my frustrations and challenges. Was he preaching it back to me? I think he was, in his gentle, affirming way.
Sometimes, all we can see is dirt. We plant some seeds, and we want to see something amazing happen. But instead, there is just a cup of mud. We see budget challenges and miscommunications. We see bureaucratic red tape and tricky power dynamics. We see a flawed, imperfect system and we wonder if anything will ever grow. We get tired, we get discouraged, we get overwhelmed. That is true in any type of ministry. That is true any time we seek to follow Jesus. That is true over and over again in our lives. We get excited about the seeds we plant, but after a little while, we can get discouraged when all we see is dirt.
And so my colleague was preaching my sermon back at me. The seeds you planted two years ago, he said, are growing right here, in your living room. Because I am a pastor and I am ready to remind you: just be faithful. Just keep watering the dirt. Something is growing, even if you cannot see it.
I am in the midst of many, many travels. From May through August, I am traveling to thirteen different presbytery meetings, all over the country. I will be gone for a week, home for a couple weeks, then gone for a couple weeks, home for a week, then gone again. Just this month, I will be traveling fifteen out of thirty-one days, and next month, I will be gone thirteen out of thirty-one. And I am a bit tired; I just want to skip out on the next few trips. I want to stay in bed and refuse to get out, and put any water in the cup.
But I know that in each and every meeting, I am blessed to see the fruits of someone else’s faithfulness. As I go into these rural congregations, all over the country, I am blessed to see vibrant, life-giving, beautiful churches. I am blessed to learn about the ministries in the communities I visit: home-based care programs for people living with HIV/AIDS, agricultural education, exuberant worship, phenomenal music...ministries of compassion and grace and praise abound. These ministries exist because of the faithfulness of those who just keep at it, who refuse to give up, who pour water into the cup every single day.
I am excited that I get to be a part of this. I am amazed that I am offered the opportunity to walk with my faithful colleagues here in Zambia. And I am overwhelmed by the incredible work that is being done. So, I will keep up my small part, a little bit of water in a tiny little cup, every single day, as best as I am able. Because the faithfulness of my friends here reminds me that there are miracles all over the place, growing just below the ground.