P.S. - Please excuse these horrible quality photos. iPhoto is not our friend.
The sunset on a clear day is beyond compare. The sun slips behind the shoulders of Meru as beams of light cast colors of red against the waning gray sky. Kilimanjaro is but a dream in the pressing darkness, her looming shadow the only reminder of her presence. In the day this place is breathtaking, an oasis of black volcanic soil bringing life to a once desolate valley. At night, the picture changes altogether. The darkness here is heavy. As if it were a weight upon one’s shoulders, the vast darkness has a perplexing presence.
Our headlights pierce through the night as we finish up the second day of our dental clinic in the jungles of Tanzania. The village population here is more effectively counted in terms of crops than people. The land here means life. Everything that is needed is grown or provided by the animals. There is no running water; there is no electricity. The darkness is heavy. The land separates the families here, each with their own shamba to generate livelihood. Despite the rugged terrain and the separation between villages, people walk for hours to take advantage of the free dental services being offered.
We close our practice for the day, not because lack of patients, but because the disappearing light. Along with the many patients that have come, we are accompanied by translators who themselves have walked many miles. On this particular day, two of the translators stay with us longer than normal. It is our last day as a team here in Tanzania, and they have stayed to spend these last moments with us. We laugh and talk about the events of the day, joyous to see what God has done through us being in this place. Alas as the darkness deepens, they begin to say their goodbyes. Getting to know these translators without a doubt was one of the greatest benefits of the trip. The older is a pastor who serves in a neighboring village. He is not on salary nor does he have a benefits package. He serves God because of his love for Him and his passion for showing love towards people. The younger is a young man taken in by the pastor. At a very young age this boy lost his parents, but has been raised by the pastor since childhood. His name in English is literally translated “God Listens.”
The darkness here is heavy, producing many dangers. Just a few weeks prior to our arrival a man down the road was killed by an elephant. Most villagers light fires at night to keep the elephants from coming towards their homes. This man was walking back from tending his night fires when a group of elephants passed through his property. Elephants are perhaps the meanest animal in Africa, and very territorial. These elephants trampled the man and moved on through the darkness. There is little anger towards the elephants; it is more of a sobering respect as one considers the weight of the uncertainties of the night.
As the translators turn to leave I ask God Listens how they will get home in such darkness. I offer them a flashlight, but he declines, saying this is a walk they have made many times. The weight of the darkness becomes even more real to me in the moment, as they prepare to walk several miles through the abysmal jungle. I then ask how they keep from being afraid. With a smile on his face, he replies, “We sing. We sing because when we do, we feel the presence of God with us, and we know that He will keep us safe.”
At that, I watched God Listens and the pastor walk away until they disappeared from the beam of light provided by our headlamps. Later that night, we shared dinner and stories for what seemed like hours. But as I was walking down the trail towards our hut, I turned off my light.
We live in a world of darkness. The weight of sin is heavy. But there is a God who produces light through his servants. The darkness around us can feel heavy. It can produce fear, uncertainties, and regrets. It can cause us to stumble, to fall, to suffer. Often times we are looking for artificial light to guide us through this sea of darkness. We seek out possessions, friends, entertainment, but to what avail? To find rest, we must rest in the presence of God. It his presence that guides us, that transforms us, that inspires us. Simplify your life. Live in, through, and to the One who gave it all, Jesus Christ.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”