Jason gasped. Clear water was gushing from the bore hole.
The foreman stopped the drill and all five of the workers crowded around, splashing each other with cool, rainbow-spilling arcs. The joy of striking the aquifer never lost its novelty. For Jason it truly was the first time.
Six months ago he’d been torn between a lucrative graduate package from a civil engineering company, and two years' voluntary service drilling wells in East Africa. He’d vacillated for weeks. His girlfriend and parents made it clear that they expected him to settle down. Suddenly he recalled a prophecy spoken over him at his baptism: ‘Pilgrim, pursue God.’ Finally he’d known.
They were threading the casing down now. Three hours ago they had been standing on virgin rock. For three hours the petrol engine had growled, the steel bit had pulverised, the ground had shuddered. Now existed a neat hole, four inches across, ninety feet deep.
Jason surveyed the valley, sprinkled with trees and dusted with shrubs. Now it would consummate its hinted promises: fertility, restoration, life. Flocks would be watered and children would dance. The valley would echo with laughter. What a privilege, to witness the birth of a dream.
Imani laughed. The children looked like two glistening nuts, sitting together in the bath.
She took the pail of water and poured it over their heads. Joseph giggled and splashed Rebekka. She chuckled and splashed him back. Then, with apparently telepathic synchronisation, they both turned and sloshed a tidal wave over the side, onto Imani’s lap.
‘Enough!’ she gasped. ‘Quick, out with the pair of you before I’m too wet to read you a bed-time story.’
They scrambled out, squabbling over the towels and leaving little puddles on the bathroom floor. Imani looked out of the window as she squirted toothpaste onto brushes. The valley was beautiful in the dusk. There were the clustered huts, each containing a loving family related only through adoption. There was the school, teaching arithmetic to the little children and agriculture to the older ones. And above were the stars, stippling the sky with glory. She’d come willingly, obedient to God’s call to serve the orphans of her nation. But how gracious of God to surround her here with such beauty and love.
She turned her attention back to the children, freshly polished and charming as only newly-bathed children can be. ‘Teeth, prayers and a story,’ she chanted; the usual evening ritual. ‘Do you think Christian will escape from the Slough of Despond?’
Rebekka gulped. The laughter of the children next door seemed very distant here.
In the crib lay Hakizimana. He was around three weeks old. Since he’d been found abandoned on the doorstep of a police station a week before, no-one could be sure of his exact age. Everyone was sure, however, that he would never become a week older.
Rebekka smoothed his head and checked his nappy. Then she picked up a bottle of milk. Testing the temperature on the inside of her wrist, she gathered up the tiny child, nursing him close to her breast and teasing the teat into his listless mouth.
He’d been named by the staff here: ‘It is God who saves’. His feeble body was in God’s care. There was little that she or anyone here could do to help. Except to allow him to die well.
She’d been here as long as she could remember; the seamless evolution from orphan to carer masking the clear point of transition she’d experienced. That was the day she’d heard God call her to stay. She’d kept vigil all that night, offering herself up to the will of the God who was leading her: leading her forward to a new vocation; leading her to remain exactly where she was, in this valley of peace.
The frail body in her arms spluttered softly. Rebekka eased the bottle from his mouth and tilted him forwards onto her shoulder, caressing his back, and feeling the soft warmth of his downy head against her cheek. She could sense his ragged breathing; detect the tiny flutter of his heart. She crooned gently.
The breathing slowed. And stuttered. She stopped, waited. Another breath, a tiny sigh. Then, nothing.
Tomorrow she would continue her vocation of caring for the living. Today she performed the sacred duty of lamenting the dead. He had no mother to mourn him. With involuntary reflex, she bent forwards and flooded him with her tears.
‘Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs.’ Psalm 84 v 5-6
‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ John 7 v 38
Both quotations from the New International Version
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