The Great Light and the Little Darkness
The drums beat on late into the night like a heartbeat reluctant to quit. The cadence of horns rose from traffic-clogged streets below creating a strange combination of chaos and order. Chants, calls to prayer, and murmurs of conversation seeped into my shuttered window. I was not in Kentucky any more.
I was far from home. The furthest I’ve ever been. I kept thinking about Bilbo Baggins’ words to Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.” Going to India was a good but distant idea a year ago. Then one BBQ fundraiser led to another. Then one generous donor gave and then another. Tickets were purchased carefully (but with travel insurance in case one needed to back out). Travel VISA’s were filled out…and filled out again…and filled out again until they were just right. Then came the meetings and shopping the weeks before. Finally, after hours of tortuous air travel (since I have not discovered how to sleep on a plane) we landed in the heart of Mother India.
The journey didn’t end there: we slept for 2 hours, boarded a train, and traveled another 3-4 hours before arriving at our destination. We were met in the train station by people we were very familiar with – though we had never met. We were greeted by brothers in Christ. They were as familiar as family – their smiles, their hospitality, the way they honored us. Christians just share a common Spirit – you know one when you meet one.
So there I was (my delicate sleep schedule all out of sorts) wide awake and reflecting on the day. I recalled shrines containing statues of gods and goddesses (many of which were very poorly formed) were as abundant as Baptist churches in Kentucky. But there were also the Muslim calls to prayer blaring from the loud speakers. On one hand, the idols had eyes but could not see, ears but could not hear, and tongues but could not speak. While on the other there was a distant master who was too transcendent to walk with in relationship. The people of India and the people in Galilee of the Gentiles share something in common: they are a people dwelling in darkness (Mat. 4:15, 16).
There are shadows over India: The caste system, almost unceasing conflicts and wars, violent fear from the Hindu religious elites, and…well… lostness. It is the shadow of death and despair. It is an impairing shadow that has caused the great people in India to stumble and fall in spite of their deep spirituality. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that India’s darkness is a great darkness. But that’s not the whole story either.
In Matthew 4:14-16 when Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy and launches his public ministry in Galilee, he didn’t misunderstand the magnitude of darkness in the land of Nephtali and Zebulun. But the darkness wasn’t described as “great” darkness either. That’s because the darkness isn’t nearly as great as the Light! It’s little darkness in comparison to the Great Light.
It’s like the night trying desperately to stay dark when the sun is rising. The blackness of night simply cannot stop the sunrise from splashing it’s rays of hope on a new day. That is what I witnessed in India!
India has seen a great light! Jesus is in India. From the moment we met the young men eager to know the Word we knew God had plans for the city and surrounding villages. The leadership within the ministry was equally compelling. They were courageous and ignited with Gospel-hope. They met Jesus or, better said, Jesus had met them and they had no intentions of returning to the darkness – even if the political and religious winds never shift in their favor. Simply put, they had seen the Great Light and next to Him the darkness simply looks pitiful.
So when we sang the familiar Christ Tomlin song, “Here I am to Worship” I had a new appreciation for the words, “Light of the world you stepped down into darkness.” I was impressed by India in so many ways. But what I took with me and will remember until the day we meet again in the new Kingdom (unless the Lord wills me to return again) is that Jesus’s light is so much brighter, warmer, and purer against the backdrop of India’s darkness. Though it really begs the question: is it all that different in America?