“Are those masks?” a teammate asked me as we looked down from the dirt road carved into the face of a hill vibrant green with rice plants.
Sunscreen. Though to be fair, this was more of a physical barrier than one of those nice ones that gets absorbed so no one can tell you smeared white cream all over your nose. This variety is made by mixing some kind of rock powder with water and in appearance is like mineral beauty face masks (minus the cucumber-- you get to eat those). We actually were eating cucumber from the fields, now that I think of it. Giant ones the size of melons, a very welcome treat on our afternoon trek to the next village where these “sun screened” harvesters hailed from. They dotted the slope in a line, collecting the rice one day at a time. Sweaty, back-breaking work that was a requirement for survival in these Karen Hill Tribes.
We were on a week-and-a-half-long trip to visit the churches planted in these villages, to encourage the believers up there, learn from them, and supply some basic medications for the sick. We saw in them the meaning of our trip name: “Phalang Jai” (literally, “Strong Heart”). Harvest season takes it all.
The elderly in these communities bear the marks of the harvest on their bodies: weathered faces, backs frozen in a bent position, hands sporting callouses built from a lifetime of wielding sickles. The young bear the marks of the harvest on their faces, too: the paint of sun ray protection, the eyes that have learned to squint, the tattletale traces of insufficient sleep. Harvest season takes it all.
This trip was many hot hours on the trail, views that captivate your soul and make you want to live in the little field-watching shack you just passed, rivers that needed crossing, rice 3 times a day, and an unfortunate pig that got caught in the hospitality of the head pastor. It was the poised little girl that ate her pet beetles as we all sat around in fascinated horror and intense respect. It was the water bottles precariously balanced on top of headlamps to supply light for the church congregation at our night services. It was hearing the believers worship in their own language, knowing that God was present and pleased with their acts of faith. This trip was learning the humility to eat the rice our brothers and sisters strained their backs over. It was being challenged by their cultural value of letting their guests eat first, knowing that we so often serve our leftovers to God-- not the choice pieces of ourselves and resources. It was feeling conviction over how quick we are as people, as believers, to jump at the fresh fruits of the Harvest yet are often unwilling to participate in the work it takes to produce those fruits when the time comes to leave the houses and live in the fields.
Jesus says that now is the time of the Harvest (Jn. 4:35) but that the workers are few (Mtt. 9:37-38). The Harvest season takes it all. Lord give me courage to put on that sunblock!