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The roughest journey: Out of the darkness, again and again light appears

A lectionary mission story for Christmas Day

by Kari Nicewander | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Women in Zambia carry bricks that will be used to build a village school. (Photo by Jesse Dimmock)

ZAMBIA – It was dark, really dark. And it is not always the wisest choice to drive through the rough bush roads when the sky is black and evening has turned to night. But the radiator was leaking and the starter motor was broken. So every 40 minutes we had to stop and find water at the nearest borehole and get some people from the villages to help push the truck. We were hours from our destination and not sure where to stop. I stood by the side of a quiet street, where the truck was stopped yet again, wondering if I could sleep in the bed of the truck, wondering where my colleagues would rest if we did not make it to a guesthouse of some sort.

Out of the darkness came a group of men; they saw our big red truck stopped on the side of the road. After leading us to a source of water and waiting as the radiator was filled yet again, they lined up behind the vehicle. We moved forward, slowly at first, and then the engine started. They waved good-bye, and we were off again to repeat this procedure throughout the night.

From 10 in the morning until 10 at night we drove and stopped, drove and stopped, drove and stopped. Always pulling over near villages, always relying on strangers to show us water, always receiving help in pushing the truck, time after time after time. And as the dark of night fell, and the frustration mounted, and desperation for sleep and food arose, the strangers continued to emerge from the shadows, to help us, to push us, to wave us forward.

We arrived at our destination. We did not need to sleep in the truck, and although we were unable to find dinner, there was a big breakfast in the morning. Food came, sleep came, help came, hope came. Out of the darkness, again and again, light appeared.

One of my favorite Christmas readings is by Dom Helder: “In the middle of the night, when stark night was darkest, then you chose to come. God’s resplendent firstborn sent to make us one. The voices of doom protest: ‘All these words about justice, love, and peace—all these naïve words will buckle beneath the weight of a reality that is brutal and bitter, ever more bitter.’ Is it true, Lord? It is midnight upon the earth, moonless night and starved of stars. But can we forget that you, the son of God, chose to be born precisely at midnight?”

The words from the fifth verse in the first chapter of John remind us: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” We may be cold and lost; we may be afraid and uncertain; we may be overwhelmed with pain and sorrow. But wherever we are, whatever darkness we might face, the light will overcome.

Jesus came for this. For people who are broken and lost. For people who are hurting and suffering. For people who don’t always get it right. The light shines in the darkness because we so desperately need it, because we can’t do it on our own, because we need someone greater than ourselves to navigate the deep still night.

From the shadows, strangers emerged. To lead us to water, to push us forward, to wave us on. God works in the shadows. God works from the shadows. God appears in our shadows. To lead us to hope, to push us forward, to wave us on. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. In a world that is surrounded by the darkness of disease, poverty, war, and pain, God emerges from the shadows and shines a light that will never, ever die. The darkness will not overcome it.

This particular trip was a journey to Mansa, to a town with a five-month-old congregation, a good four hours from the closest CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian) congregation. We had started the church in May, in a tiny schoolroom, and were following up to encourage the church leaders and the fledgling congregation. When we arrived at worship we were surrounded by dancing and singing, joy and praise, people filled with faith and love. It took a long time to get there, and it was the roughest journey I have had, but we arrived. And we praised God together, the God who shines on and on, no matter what.

We wish you a blessed Christmas, a true celebration of Emmanuel, God-with-us. If you are in a broken-down truck, stuck in the middle of a pitch-black night, desperate for rest and reprieve, I pray that you will see hope emerge from the shadows. If you are in a place of pain and sorrow, I pray that you will see the light shine in the darkness. And if you are in a place of joy and wonder, gratitude and grace, I pray that you will be the light that someone else sees—for you may be the stranger who emerges from the shadow, to push someone else forward, into the hope and light of God.

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Kari Nicewander served as a mission co-worker in Zambia from 2012–2015.

Find other stories from PC(USA) mission workers that illustrate Sunday lectionary New Testament readings for Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.

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