Tuesday, June 15, 2010
This is harvest season, Masika, in Malawi and that is joyfully celebrated in the church. Each congregation sets at least a week, and for some a month, for the members to bring the first fruits of their harvest and present them to the Lord. This is biblical but it is also very practical. This is taking literally the instructions of Exodus 23:16 “Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.” This is also a way of providing for the poorer members of the congregation. What is brought is shared first with the pastor and then with the poor in the community. Since this is an agricultural economy, almost everyone has a garden – usually several acres. That may seem more like a small farm to us in the States, but it is part of providing for the family here. Some have the plot near their house and other, who live in the city, have plots of land in their home villages, so they travel to plant and to harvest. The first crop is always maize (corn) and depending on the geography of the area, other crops may include rice or casaba or pumpkins or beans or tomatoes. At harvest, the first of the crops are presented – and with great style and joy. This is a gift of thanksgiving to God.
I was afraid that I would miss Masika, just as I had missed Easter, but God was good to me. My first Sunday back with the Chigodi congregation was the last Sunday of Masika. I got to participate in the celebration and to give my thanks to God. While I don’t have a garden, I do have money that I can give and the focus of Masika is the spirit of offering to God, more than what specifically one is offering. So money works, too; it is just not as much fun to present. At the time of the offering, those who have harvest to share leave the sanctuary to go outside and gather what they have brought. As the congregation sings “Bringing in the Sheaves,” thise bringing their harvest process up the aisle with their gifts, 100 pound bags carried by two members of the family and plastic baskets filled grains, placed on the head. The givers sing joyfully with the congregation. The emphasis is on the joy of giving thanks to God for all that he has provided. That was especially felt this year since the rains were late in coming and many were fearful about the harvest yield. In January there were special prayers for rain. God was good. The rains were not too late and the crops came back. So Masika was fully celebrated. The joy becomes contagious. It is a tangible expression of thanksgiving that I have not fully experienced in the States. I was so grateful not to have missed this special time in the life of the church.