A letter from Rich Hansen in Ethiopia
“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.” (John 1:4-5)
In this season we traditionally focus on Luke’s Christmas story — shepherds, stable and manger — in our Nativity scenes, children’s pageants and lighted decorations. But John tells a Christmas story, too. One of my precious moments as a pastor in the United States was at our 11:00 p.m. Christmas Eve candlelight communion service when, in a totally dark sanctuary, I lit the Christ Candle in our Advent wreath and repeated the words from John quoted above.
I’ve been thinking about “light shining in the darkness” this season. Addis Ababa is often a dark place. The electricity fails frequently — often at night when we need light the most. Regularly during my evening class at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST) the room unexpectedly goes totally dark. Students quickly whip out their cell phones and we proceed without missing a beat — the tiny glowing screens the 21st century the equivalent of flickering candles. These evening “blackouts” are especially disconcerting to Marilyn when I’m away teaching and she’s home alone looking out our windows into total darkness.
Last Sunday evening I had my first preaching invitation from a church here. One of our students was leading a young adult service at a Full Gospel church. The church met in a half-constructed cement block building, far up a rocky dirt road on the outskirts of the city. It was twilight when we began singing. By the time I was introduced 40 minutes later, the single fluorescent bulb overhead was totally inadequate for me to see my Bible. Fortunately, I’m used to preaching without notes, and I quoted from memory (or at least could paraphrase) enough of the text for my talk. I could see the people in the first few rows, but everyone else in the crowd of 100 or more was only a dark blur. Toward the end, the power went out. These young people were less affluent than my EGST students, so only a few cell phones appeared. During a question time following the talk, people took turns shouting questions out of the deep darkness. It’s more difficult to respond without the visual context provided by a questioner’s face and body language.
Sometimes, when all lights are out and I walk home in total darkness (no streetlights, no building lights, maybe an occasional passing car headlight), my spine prickles and I get a clear sense of what life for most of human history was like. As a Westerner, I took light for granted until I moved here. Now I better understand stories in the Bible about maidens so concerned their lamps will run out of oil or disgruntled judges not wanting to open their doors after dark. Darkness is intimidating. Drive through this city of millions, sometimes called the “Capital of Africa,” after 9:00 p.m., you’re driving through a ghost town; everyone is fleeing the darkness as best they can.
Living with deep darkness as our ever-present reality makes me appreciate Christmas all the more. For centuries we humans shouted our questions to God out of our darkness. When the time was right, God sent his Son to be not only our light, but also the Light of the entire world. Our students at EGST take Jesus’ light with them as they minister to people with AIDS, lead churches and nongovernmental organizations and prepare to be the spiritual and social leaders this land of 80 million so desperately needs.
For some of us, this season that celebrates Light also heightens our awareness of the darkness with which we continue to struggle. If that sounds like you, we wish you a Christmas filled with the growing certainty that Jesus’ cleansing, powerful light penetrates all darkness! And thank you for standing with us as we continue to serve in this sometimes-dark place.
Rich and Marilyn Hansen
1. Pray for safe travel on December 18-20 for all our children who will be traveling to join us for the holidays and for a blessed time together.
2. Pray for 6-year-old Amy, the daughter of my faculty colleague Dr. Ermias, who desperately needs surgery — we are trying to help them arrange Amy’s surgery in California, but there are many issues to resolve.
3. Pray that open staff positions at EGST will be filled with the people God has already prepared.
4. Pray that our understanding of Amharic will continue to grow.
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 57