Life In The Desert

Desert dwelling is something of a Biblical theme.

Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, fasting and praying, preparing for his ministry. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness, in preparation for their return to the promised land. So, to prepare ourselves for the new things to come, we must strip everything back and face our vulnerabilities and our doubts.

Life in the desert is difficult. It’s hot, and barren, and lonely. When you’re in the desert, it’s difficult to see an end.

In the rhythm of the Christian calendar, before we can reach the hope and assurance that Easter brings, we must live through lent. A time where we let go of our comforts and instead are left alone, with all our doubts and vulnerabilities, learning to rely on God.

As we spend the next 40 days living in our own metaphorical deserts, there are 14 million people living in the very real deserts of East Africa, experiencing the impact of the worst drought we’ve seen in over half a century.

While we journey through lent in the knowledge of the hope of new life, the growing threat of climate change leaves the farmers in East Africa facing doubts that have no end in sight.

From Northern Kenya, our team share a snippet of life in the desert:

“It’s a normal dry, windy, dusty and extremely hot Saturday morning in Burgabo, Kenya. Pastoralists converge at the only water point in the vicinity, patiently waiting for their turn to give water to their emancipated livestock.

In the normal dry season, the average time it takes to get all their animals watered is 3 – 5 days. This year, it is taking more like 9 – 12 days. The long wait for water in the overwhelming 45 degree heat, have already claimed thousands of small stock and donkeys.

At around 5pm the clouds started building up. The thirsty population staring up at the sky, longing for raindrops to quench their thirst. Suddenly, huge dust engulfed the area. The pastoralists all rushed to the tin houses to shelter from the dust. For 20 minutes the rain started pounding, coupled with strong winds that rush across the treeless plains.

A confused and barefooted herder whose body soaked with water and mud came shouting and the villagers rushed to inquire about what went wrong.

They didn’t expect the rains so suddenly; out of season and unprepared the short evening showers claimed hundreds of lives of small animals. In total, about 740 goats died in less than half an hour.

This water was not the much needed relief from drought.”

For many communities across East Africa, desert life is normal. The desert is their home and over years they have developed ways of living within it. But climate change is making this harder; the rising temperatures coupled with longer dry spells and unpredictable weather patterns bring longer droughts. We think of rain as the relief, but when they come they’re often more intense. The damage to crops and animals can often be worse than the drought.

I’ve got doubts about a better world. There are days when I doubt whether we can really tackle climate change. And I wonder, as they trek in 45 degree heat, do the pastoralist famers of East Africa doubt that too? As they wait in anticipation of the rain returning, do they doubt the new creation that it will bring with it? For these farmers, life in the desert really is a season of doubt.

For us, the doubts and vulnerabilities that come with desert dwelling come to an end as we reach the anticipated resurrection; we’re held by the hope that Jesus brings, the hope of a new world, relief from the dry desert lands.

Lent is a season of grief that ends in joy. It’s a season of doubt that can’t help but get pulled towards hope. So, as we go through lent, walking through our own deserts and wrestling with our own griefs and doubts, may we remember those whose desert time has no clear end, for whom the hope of a better world might seem far away. And, as we reach the anticipated resurrection, may we be reminded of the call for us to play our part in the hope for a new world - a better future.