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A Fulani Cattle-Herder ...
by Liz McGregor, Champion for Discipleship and Mentoring
2 June 2009

One morning at breakfast at the Global Leaders Gathering in Kenya recently, I sat across the table from Younoussa Djao (Director of the SIM West Africa Partnership Office). As we munched our cornflakes and drank some good Kenyan coffee, Younoussa, who is from Burkina Faso, began to tell me a story of his childhood and how he learned to look after cattle as a boy—spending time out in the bush with his father and their herds.

Everything he knows about cattle-herding, he learned from his father—from being with him, observing him, listening to him, being given tasks to do, sometimes forgetting, sometimes making mistakes, and then, ultimately being given responsibility for their herd. I listened with amazement ... for it seemed a long way from where Younoussa is today. But what gripped me most was how easily and clearly he went on to share with me what discipleship means to him ... linking this story of his childhood to how Jesus trained his disciples.

Often people ask the question, How do you describe "discipleship"? That morning, as I listened to Younoussa, I realized how very helpful it would be to have a story or a picture that I could use when I am trying to help someone grasp what discipleship is, especially in an informal, perhaps oral learning context.

A bamboo orchid ...

So, let me tell you a story about my bamboo orchid which is, for me, a lovely picture of the life of discipleship.

While wandering around the airport shops in Hawaii, waiting for our plane home after a Retreat at the YWAM base, I found a shop selling packs of seeds, and roots of indigenous plants and flowers from the island. Captured by a picture of a beautiful bamboo orchid, I bought a tiny plastic bag with what looked like a brown, dried out twisted twig inside. I paid $2.00 for it. My husband, of course, just smiled at my dream of growing such a beautiful thing from what was in the bag!

  Liz's orchid  

Undaunted, I followed the instructions on the label and planted my $2.00 twig. Some 3 years later—this is the result! The bamboo is now about 5 ft tall and still growing, and with ongoing nurture I think it will produce more gorgeous, delicate, flowers as the years go by.

Nurturing the orchid

Over the years I’ve kept the instructions so that I can go back and check that I am on the right track. They are very simple. It needs quite a lot of water and should be protected from the cold. I keep it outdoors from May to October, although not in the direct summer sun, and indoors the rest of the time. I make sure the pot is topped up with new soil twice a year and I have repotted it twice as it has gotten bigger. I’m not quite sure what to do if it keeps growing!

It doesn’t always look beautiful, and at times I think it isn’t going to make it. The leaves sometimes dry and fall off leaving nothing but long, ugly bamboo poles. Sometimes if it has rained a lot, it gets over-watered and a few times I’ve had to carefully cut off some canes that have begun to rot. And then, if it has been windy, the canes bend over and look like they’ll never get up again. Once too, I almost lost it when a surprise frost attacked it. Last year, after I brought it inside for the winter, it was ready to flower, but we were getting ready for a trip and without thinking about the needs of the plant, I turned down the heating and it never did produce the flowers.

Yet, mostly I patiently tend it as best I know how, and then I watch and wonder at the work of it’s Creator and marvel at the amazing transformation He has brought about—from a twig to a beautiful bamboo orchid.

Reproducing the results

But I think I still have one more step to go in my investment in this little twig. Do you know what I should do now? I need to reproduce this amazing miracle. I’m not exactly sure how to do this, but I think I will begin by gently splicing off some of the young shoots and potting them individually. I might also try potting the “twig,” the stem that remains after the flowers have faded. And why do I want to do this? Of course I want to share this miracle of new life and transformation with others that I care about, so that they too can enjoy it’s beauty for themselves and marvel at the One who makes it grow. And, if I can learn how to reproduce it, I can teach them how to do that too!

Finally, I should mention one more thing. I never did get to see these beautiful flowers in real life. The story of their flowering and this photograph came to me by email. You see, it flowered when I was in Korea. While I was gone, it was in the care of another who loves plants and as she tended it, it reached this new level of beauty.

And so as I end my tale of the bamboo orchid from Hawaii, the words of Paul to the Colossian church come to mind.

… God has chosen to make known (among the Gentiles) the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works in me … so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge … so then just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 1:27 – 2:7)

A reward challenge ...

Now, here’s a question (and a prize!)

I wonder how many principles of discipleship you see in my orchid story? Here’s an example of what I mean:

  • The picture on the packet promised something beautiful—God has promised that each one of his children has the potential for beauty as we grow in Him and become more like Jesus. (Zech 9: 16 & 17, 2 Cor 3: 18, Col 1:21 & 22)

Email me a list of as many of the discipleship principles, and Scripture verses to support them, that you see in the orchid story (above) that I could share with someone I’m discipling. I’ll include the most helpful one in [my newsletter] Journey Together and arrange for a one year subscription of the Discipleship Journal to be sent to the winner!

I want to hear from you—so, it’s over to you now … get the coffee going and your Bible to hand, and yes, there’s a prize to be won. It’s for real! If you want to do it as a team effort, that’s fine too.

PS ... I hope you can also think of a real life story appropriate to your cultural context that you could use to help those you are discipling! That’s what Jesus did!

Comment on this post: Email liz.mcgregor@sim.org



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