When the Desert Floods

Who chooses to live in the desert? When I first came to Gulu, long before I even knew God was going to call me here, my Ugandan friends joked, “Welcome to Sudan!” The climate in Gulu is much harsher than Kampala’s. Kampala boasts of its climate. It has a comfortable temperature range. Even during dry season, it’s never too dry, not like Gulu.

I prayed that God would not send me to Gulu. To me, Gulu was like the Bible’s Negeb region. I thought it was parched and dry and unsuitable for sustaining any life. Negeb’s root actually means “to be dry.” Why would I want to live in a dry (and dusty) place?

I’ve been contemplating about the Negeb for some years, since it is mentioned in my favorite psalm (126). Verse 4 reads,

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!

The rest of the psalm speaks about mourning before rejoicing, sowing before reaping. I once read a commentary on it that explained that near the beginning of the planting season, food was scarce. The remaining seed in the barn could be used for food, but instead, the farmer plants it to reap a harvest. Can you imagine a farmer putting food that could be on the table into the ground, counting on a harvest for the next season? Can you imagine the faith it takes to plant those precious seeds? And then, can you imagine the rejoicing when the harvest comes in? I imagine that the bigger the hardship in the sowing, the greater the rejoicing in the harvest.

What does it all have to do with the Negeb? I didn’t really understand it until I came to Africa. I was supposed to go to a desert region in Kenya a couple of years back. We had booked a flight but never made it because the rains had begun. When it rains in the desert, it floods, I mean dangerous floods that can carry away large vehicles and make any existing roads impassable. When the psalmist was asking God to restore his fortunes, he was asking God to flood him over with them!

God doesn’t call his people to the Negeb for no good reason. Whatever the seeming magnitude of the personal sacrifice, the promise is bigger.

If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light shine in darkness, and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire IN SCORCHED places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a WATERED GARDEN, like a SPRING of water, whose waters do not fail.

It takes faith to believe it, doesn’t it? A lot of God-only-can-give-this-kind-of faith.

Even now, I can say that God’s blessings in my Negeb far outweigh any perceived hardship in living here. God keeps his promises. He has never failed, He never will.

Abraham’s journey to the Promised land brought him through the Negeb.  I wondered why Moses mentioned that seemingly insignificant part of his journey (Gen. 12:9). Abraham went when God said “go,” even though he didn’t really know where he was going. Abraham went by faith, knowing that when God promised, he would keep it. As Abraham’s daughter (in faith), I know my final destination—that city with a sure foundation (Hebrews 11). My brief sojourn in the harsh Negeb is directly related to the joy I will experience in the presence of my God in glory!

If you’re hesitating about going through your Negeb, may I exhort you to pray with me? Lord, my eyes can only see as far as this parched land. When you tell me to go, my feet are slow to obey because of my myopic vision. Give me the faith I need to take the next step, and the joy in simple, trusting obedience. Let me look for that place where

The things of earth that cause my heart to tremble
remembered there will only bring a smile.

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