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The Law of the Harvest

The following article is based on a sermon by missionary Del Tarr who served fourteen years in West Africa with another mission agency. His story points out the price some people pay to sow the seed of the gospel in hard soil.

I was always perplexed by Psalm 126 until I went to the Sahel, that vast stretch of savanna more than four thousand miles wide just under the Sahara Desert. In the Sahel, all the moisture comes in a four month period: May, June, July, and August. After that, not a drop of rain falls for eight months. The ground cracks from dryness, and so do your hands and feet. The winds of the Sahara pick up the dust and throw it thousands of feet into the air. It then comes slowly drifting across West Africa as a fine grit. It gets inside your mouth. It gets inside your watch and stops it. The year’s food, of course, must all be grown in those four months. People grow sorghum or milo in small fields.

October and November .these are beautiful months. The granaries are full—the harvest has come. People sing and dance. They eat two meals a day. The sorghum is ground between two stones to make flour and then a mush with the consistency of yesterday’s Cream of Wheat. The sticky mush is eaten hot; they roll it into little balls between their fingers, drop it into a bit of sauce and then pop it into their mouths. The meal lies heavy on their stomachs so they can sleep.

December comes, and the granaries start to recede. Many families omit the morning meal. Certainly by January not one family in fifty is still eating two meals a day. By February, the evening meal diminishes. The meal shrinks even more during March and children succumb to sickness. You don’t stay well on half a meal a day.

April is the month that haunts my memory. In it you hear the babies crying in the twilight. Most of the days are passed with only an evening cup of gruel. Then, inevitably, it happens. A six- or seven-year-old boy comes running to his father one day with sudden excitement. “Daddy! Daddy! We’ve got grain!” he shouts.

“Son, you know we haven’t had grain for weeks.”

“Yes, we have!” the boy insists. “Out in the hut where we keep the goats—there’s a leather sack hanging up on the wall—I reached up and put my hand down in there—Daddy, there’s grain in there! Give it to Mommy so she can make flour, and tonight our tummies can sleep!”

The father stands motionless. “Son, we can’t do that,” he softly explains. “That’s next year’s seed grain. It’s the only thing between us and starvation. We’re waiting for the rains, and then we must use it.”

The rains finally arrive in May, and when they do the young boy watches as his father takes the sack from the wall and does the most unreasonable thing imaginable. Instead of feeding his desperately weakened family, he goes to the field and with tears streaming down his face, he takes the precious seed and throws it away. He scatters it in the dirt! Why? Because he believes in the harvest. The seed is his; he owns it. He can do anything with it he wants.

The act of sowing it hurts so much that he cries. But as the African pastors say when they preach on Psalm 126, “Brother and sisters, this is God’s law of the harvest. Don’t expect to rejoice later on unless you have been willing to sow in tears.” And I want to ask you: How much would it cost you to sow in tears? I don’t mean just giving God something from your abundance, but finding a way to say, “I believe in the harvest, and therefore I will give what makes no sense. The world would call me unreasonable to do this—but I must sow regardless, in order that I may someday celebrate with songs of joy.”

Leadership, 1983

A model from the world of real estate becomes instructive at this point. A firm in Salem, Oregon, assigns 500 families to each agent. Agents are expected to contact each assigned family once per month for a year. The contact may be personal, a telephone call, or a letter. Research indicates that it takes at least six contacts for people to remember who the agent is and the firm represented. During this time of “building relationships,” agents are encouraged not to go in the house (good psychology, everyone else ins trying to get their foot in the door). Furthermore, they are encouraged not to ask for a listing during this “get acquainted” time. Obviously, there would be exceptions to these restrictions, but they do illustrate an understanding of what it takes to create a favorable climate for selling real estate. After the initial year of regular contacts, the agent continues to communicate with the assigned families on a scheduled, systematic basis. Research reveals that if this pattern is followed consistently for one-year-and-a-half, the agent will secure 80% of the listings.

What does the real estate firm know that we either do not know or overlook?

First, people do not like to be confronted by strangers seeking entrance into their homes. In fact, in many communities this is socially unacceptable. The sales person or any other unknown professional who arrives at the door is automaticaally confronted with a high sales resistance. If the door is opened, it is done with a determination not to be “taken in” by sales talk. The salesperson professionally represents the product, and consequently the sales pitch is discounted at least 50 percent. However, if a friend comes over and shares a glowing personal testimony concerning the value of the agent’s product, the reaction is apt to be markedly different. A satisfied customer makes the most effective salesperson.

Second, people are more inclined to do business with acquaintances than strangers.

Third, it takes time and effort to build a healthy decision-making climate.

Fourth, there is no substitute for time. Often it is necessary to “make haste slowly

Joe Aldrich, Friendship Evangelism, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association