Left to right : Sam, TIMO team leader from England; Chris, South African born, now an English citizen; Mark, Montana, USA; Caleb, Pennsylvania, USA; Tobias, Germany; Spencer, Iowa, USA.
In November, three Americans, one German and one South-African-turned-British came to Lesotho to spend two years living among and witnessing to the Basotho shepherds. The shepherds are a subculture within the Basotho people who live in the rural mountains, herding flocks and surviving under extremely difficult circumstances. Oftentimes shepherds are ostracized as outsiders and there are social and geographical blocks to reaching them with the gospel. Here shepherds are largely illiterate; their traditions are to sing songs and tell stories as a way of passing along important information. The TIMO team came to impart a set of Bible stories which were developed by two female AIM (Africa Inland Mission) missionaries and translated into Sesotho. Because the shepherds are exclusively men, typically between 18-35, AIM intended to send young men to live and work with them. This group of guys signed up for two years of extreme living. We (Jonathan and I) are truly challenged by their courage and commitment to the gospel.
There is something of a gaping hole in the missional community where young men are concerned. It is commonly known that the missional force is largely made up of single women and older couples. It does seem that the trends are changing and we know a significant number of young families on the field. However, the number of single missionary guys we know could be counted on one hand. Until we met all these guys. They are serious about what they’ve come to do and we are so proud of them.
Their living conditions are even more isolated and primitive than I think I can accurately depict. Obviously, I haven’t lived where they are living. However, we pass by the area in the vast, seemingly uninhabited mountains where they stay, during our trips in and out of Mokhotlong. Their huts are only about three feet high with a thatched roof and just an elevated space for sleeping. The shepherds (Basotho shepherds and the TIMO team alike) have nothing but the clothes on their back, the blankets they wear for warmth and shield from the sun, and a spoon for eating their breakfast and dinner. Both meals consist of a thick maize meal called pap and occasionally some wild greens they find growing nearby where they live. They drink water from the streams around their huts. I do believe they have a bar of soap but judging by how the guys looked when they showed up at my house and how my sink looked after they washed their hands, they must not invest too much time in utilizing it. That’s okay. As I see it, why bother?
From sunup to sundown these guys are outdoors. They are working to learn Sesotho so they can better communicate with their shepherd neighbors. They hike up and down mountains, play a familiar game amongst the shepherds with sticks and rocks, sing, read and sometimes nap while out on herd duty. In the mornings and evenings, they take turns making the fire to cook their pap. It’s as if they are on a two-year long extremely difficult camping trip. But a camping trip with an eternal purpose.
Every forth week of the month, the team leaves their post, called a motebong, in the mountains and retreats to a house in Clarens, South Africa. Their TIMO team leaders also live Clarens and facilitate their travel and work with the TIMO program. In Clarens, the guys can shower, eat whatever they want, watch a movie or just take a nap in a real bed. They also have internet access during that time to contact their loved ones back home. Because TIMO is focused on mission training, there is also a curriculum that goes along with the program. The guys are reading some of their assignments while at the cattle posts, and completing the rest of their assignments while in South Africa.
The guys were at our house for breakfast on Thursday morning, so we invited a few of our closest friends here in Mokhotlong to meet and visit with them. The team arrived fully clad in shepherd attire, although they’d ditched their blankets and boots for coming indoors. I made up 24 egg/cheese/bacon mini-quiches in my muffin pans. Then I made two loaves of fresh bread and cut up a whole bowl worth of fresh fruit. We served that along with all the drinks we could come up with here in Mokhotlong : juice, hot tea, coffee, Coke, water, ginger beer (like ginger ale), Mountain Dew, sweet tea and milk. It was absolutely demolished. Then they set off to their village destination about four hours from here. Jonathan was able to join them and enjoyed his time getting to know them all a bit better.
Kyle making sure everyone had a car to play with.
Turns out Tobias already knew our neighbor/friend Ntsimane
Eating and catching up on the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament.
Upon their return yesterday afternoon, I served up Double Doozies per Kyle’s suggestion. After those vanished, I made up some soft pretzels and they were also gone in no time. Apparently eating pap (think really thick grits) breakfast and dinner can leave some people hungry for comfort food. I specialize in comfort food so I was happy to oblige. At least we could send the guys off with bellies full of American junk food and prayers for a successful ministry at the motebong.
We will see the guys again in a couple weeks at our quarterly AIM-Lesotho prayer day. I’ve been assigned to making treats for tea time. Now I’ve got to pull some more tricks out of my sleeve and I will obviously have to make at least twice as much as I was originally expecting. I see a lot of pans of brownies in my future… Happily. It is a privilege to serve those who are giving so much for others. Do join us in praying for the Lesotho shepherd TIMO team.
To read more about the Basotho shepherds, check out Jonathan's research paper he wrote for one of his seminary requirements.