Autumn weather in the Carpathian mountains is unpredictable. The shepherd, resilient and adaptable, must change his tactics as often as the trail turns.
His walk with the sheep back down from the mountain highlands to the villages traverses ninety miles in six days—a real feat of endurance for shepherd and sheep alike.
During our two days with them, I came to understand more about the great love my shepherd has for me—and the love I should have for those in my flock (church family, community).
These Redyk events are a dying occurrence because the European Union is trying to move every sheep owner toward being a “breeder” rather than a “shepherd”. This is mostly due to the desire to have bureaucratic control. The problem is, breeders often see their sheep as a commodity; shepherds truly care for the sheep, live with them, protect them in every way.
This is very hard work, and the shepherd makes sacrifices few would make. Why does the shepherd do it?
His answer to us: “I love the sheep.”
Stashek, the lead shepherd, is a Highlander… a hard man. But the look in his eyes when he with his sheep is nothing less than love—he’s also a tender, sacrificial, a loving leader. When the sheep go back to the owner at the end of his six months with them, you will see tears in the corners of this man’s eyes.
Many of these sheep have walked for 6 months of each year their entire lives with the shepherd. Oftentimes, the shepherd caught the sheep from their mothers when they were born, and is also with them when they die.
Stashek is constantly aware and talking. He constantly looks for the most nutritional food. And he touches the ones that are sick and tired more often.
A breeder oversees sheep production. A shepherd lives among the flock. If the shepherd does not smell like the sheep, the sheep will not follow him. When we asked, “How do you know what to do… what the sheep need?”
The shepherd responded, “I watch, so I know”.
What have I learned on these trips with the sheep? I’ve learned that I am these sheep. I am skittish and unsure and in need of care and leadership.
I’ve also learned that I have a shepherd. I am completely cared for, completely safe and able to be content as long as I look to the Shepherd and hear his voice.
I am vulnerable and helpless and totally loved and completely safe… all at once. Our Good Shepherd is not a hireling.
He really cares for you and me.