“Where there is darkness…” God’s light in Africa
May the following reflection by one of our first missioners, Megeen White Testa, help us ponder today’s plea from the peace prayer that we might bring light to the darkness.
Megeen served in Zimbabwe and Zambia from 1991 to 1993 as part of our first class of lay missioners. After returning to the U.S., she served as co-director of FMS and is now of the board of directors.
“The brilliance of the African sunset is like no other I’ve ever seen. Every evening nature sets out a bold and beautiful display across the sky, proclaiming messages in bright reds, pinks, yellows, oranges and blues.
As the African sun descends over the horizon, it leaves a reminder of the heat that pounded down during the day. And as the colors spread across the sky, I try to climb to some high point – the top of a termite mound or maybe up on a fence the better to see.
There are a variety of messages in each sunset. Sometimes it seems that God is trying very hard to get our attention by splashing bright red across the horizon as far as the eye can see – a reminder of His great love for us and of the blood that He shed to prove that love. Other evenings the colors are multiple, almost like a rainbow, and I am reminded of God’s indescribable beauty and the riches of His grace. Sometimes it may be a simple pink, recalling to me the sweetness of God; or a yellowing orange – His unending compassion and kindness.
|Photo by Kim Smolik, executive director|
The colors and brilliance of the Zambian sunsets are a reflection of the people there. Each color is beautiful, full of life and importance. The same is true of each Zambian. Here the sacredness of each person is greatly valued; each life is precious and blessed in everyone’s sight.
As the colors linger in the sky, determined to remain until the darkness has fully descended, so it is with the Zambian people, persevering through greater hardships and suffering than we in the West can imagine. As I witnessed funeral after funeral, malnutrition, brokenness, disease, the inferiority complex of the young people, failure of the educational system due to the lack of resources and general poverty – I was amazed at the strength of this people.
Endurance is the backbone of the Zambian character. This is especially noticeable in the closeness of the extended family and the importance given it. It is beautiful to observe the support and love which exist within the family and the respect they give to each member. Unfortunately, with the coming of industrialization, capitalism and Western influences, the cohesion of the extended family is beginning to deteriorate.
Development is, of course, needed to offer the people a better standard of living, but it comes at a great cost. Zambian families have paid a high price in this regard: their very structure and stability challenged, undermined and in many instances broken. I have seen it happen here: broken homes and confused young people looking for a brighter, Western-style future. Still in all this brokenness are still color and beauty.
Another image which comes to my mind as I reflect on my experience in Africa is the beauty and innocence of African children. Looking into their eyes, I glimpsed what Jesus meant when He said that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom of God. Children here are filled with love, trust, life and simplicity; their very beings embody the meaning of the Gospel. In my ministry I was always looking for new and exciting ideas to make our Faith more appealing and interesting. I tried so hard to “sell” the idea of being a Christian instead of just letting the Lord live it through me.
As I struggled to learn CiBemba from these young ones (4 to 10 years old) I was able to laugh at myself. The children taught me to love life, no matter what it might bring. God is ever-present to them and there is no need for fear.
Village life is not easy because there is much work to be done every day simply to survive. Yet, there is always time to share with another person, friend or stranger. As I saw these daily struggles combined with the sheer joy of being alive and the sense of being in God’s presence and filled with gratitude for another day of life, I was transformed by the presence of God in these people. In just the same way that the beauty of the African sunsets brought God’s message of love and grace to me, so did these humble people.
|Megeen and her secondary students. She taught biology, physical science and religious education in addition to being involved with youth ministry and pastoral work, leading retreats, and coaching volleyball and soccer.|
Looking back on my experience here, I know that several times I wanted to quit – from exhaustion or because I failed to reach the young people n the way I believe the Lord was leading me. During those times I tried very hard to do two things: pick up a small child and gaze into his or her innocent eyes for a few moments; and spend time awash in God’s glory revealed each evening in the African sunsets.
As I continue my journey of faith, wherever God will lead me next, I hold those images in mind and I know there is hope for this suffering world.”