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Sam & Leanna Williamson are the leaders of a TIMO team, working to reach the shepherds in Lesotho who live in marginalised, isolated communities high in the mountains, outside the reach of the local churches. They say…
Living like a shepherd
Nineteen months in and our team look, speak, live and even sometimes think like the most ostracised and impoverished people in Lesotho – The Balisana (shepherds). A number of shepherds return to the villages in the winter with the animals, so some of the team spent June to October 2015 (our winter season) in a village. They were hosted by the family of a shepherd they had been living with in the mountains, which was a fascinating opportunity to learn how the complex, semi-nomadic life of a shepherd works with relationships and community. Now that it is summer, the whole team are back in the mountains.
Hearing the gospel
Caleb, one of the TIMO team living among the shepherds in the mountains, shares one of his encouraging experiences.
“On our way through the hills to locate some cows, a group of three shepherds in the distance spotted us and called me over. I joined the group sitting in the grass on the crest of a mountain and we joked and chatted for a while, two more shepherds joining us. Semeche asked me to read some more Bible stories from my Kindle, so I did. They kept asking me to read more and more, so soon I flipped ahead to the stories of Jesus’ arrest, death and resurrection. I read the whole way through to Thomas’ statement of faith at the sight of the once-dead Christ, “My Lord and my God”. They had been listening and responding amongst themselves the whole way through (including helping my pronunciation!), and though I didn’t have the skills yet to offer explanation or confront them with a decision of faith, I at least knew they had heard and understood the most important story they could ever be told.”
Sharing the gospel in Sesotho
Language learning continues to be a challenge, but the team are now sharing Bible stories in Sesotho, able to engage in conversation about the gospel and personal testimony, and can have basic conversations about theological concepts. A few shepherds ask regularly to learn from the Bible, and we’re praying that the gospel now takes hold in the lives of some of those who have heard the good news of Jesus.
The demonic spirituality of the shepherds has also become more real over the last few months as the team has begun to understand some of the strange superstitions and muti (animal parts used to ward off evil). We have got to know one family who are reasonably wealthy and attend the church in their village, whose son is a shepherd. The son even professed faith in Jesus at the church. We were saddened to discover that not only had he gone to Initiation School but that that same family host the Initiation School every year for around 70 teenage boys. The Initiation is shrouded in secrecy and even those who later are born again in Christ are genuinely afraid of sharing the secrets. What is known about it is that over a period of six months the boys are taught a large number of ‘sacred’ songs and stories, much about their culture and ancestors, and are circumcised. The more worrying side of it is the ‘covenants’ they make with the dead. Almost all men have been initiated, posing a significant spiritual barrier between them and Christ.
What lies ahead
The next five months, before the team comes to an end, holds out hope for a few converts and the development of a short documentary that will be a call to the national church to take the gospel to the shepherds. As well as the ongoing physical, mental and spiritual challenges the men in this team have come to know as normal!