I recently returned from my second trip to the continent of Africa. One of the things that I noticed about Africa is that it is a very dark place, both physically and spiritually. In this darkness, I also noticed great beacons of light, piercing through. Beacons of hope for a people living in what some people have considered ‘the dark continent’.
Last summer, I traveled to the middle-of-nowhere, Uganda. In the Agule sub-district of Pallisa, Uganda, our team of twelve random college students helped out at the Agule Community Health Center, working and helping out wherever we could. We got to know the nurses and the doctors, working alongside them, treating Malaria, diagnosing patients and (for me) trying to stay out of the way. We worked around the clinic, helping out with the construction of the new ward where we could.
It was there that I first saw how dark Africa could be. Each night, with the lack of artificial light, the land would be plunged into darkness. A complete and utter darkness that seemed to reach out and grab at us as we laid down to rest beneath the shelter of blankets and mosquito nets.
Spiritually, it was dark. I felt the darkness reaching out, almost alive and breathing. It was more than a presence in the night, but something darker.
We talk about spirits and demons, almost with a laugh in our voices, but I have felt their presence there in Uganda.
The night that I came down with symptoms of Malaria, I was up late reading the Word of God. After finishing up the chapter I was reading and praying for the clinic, I said ‘Amen’. Almost immediately, it felt like someone or something reached out and grabbed me. That whole night, I couldn’t stop shaking. I couldn’t sleep, so I prayed.
Some people have told me that it was just the Malaria, but they didn’t feel that icy hand of darkness creep in. They didn’t feel the darkness that entered, trying to stop my words. They didn’t feel the presence that shook me to the core, that grabbed ahold of me and refused to let go.
It was there in Uganda that we heard the stories of the witch doctors, the power that they held through fears and through the beliefs of the people. We heard stories of human sacrifices, children kidnapped and blood spilt.
We asked ourselves what would drive people into such darkness. And then we looked around.
This past summer, I spent three months aboard the Africa Mercy, two and a half of those docked in Lome, Togo. It was there that I saw the darkness again, in the faith of tribal worship and the influences of Voodoo.
We heard stories of children sold by their parents for sacrifice, to be taken advantage of by a primitive faith. We saw the influence of tribal worship creeping into the Christian faith, influencing the perception of the church.
Togo was veiled in darkness because of the influence of Voodoo and the tribal faiths that surrounded us. We saw it on the streets, in the market place, in worship and in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
We heard stories of Voodoo priests, much like the witch doctors of Uganda, kidnapping children, making human sacrifices and forcing children into the sex industry. We heard of ceremonies that were beyond our darkest imaginations, curses against others and the possession of demons, openly accepted by participants.
Many people claim that Africa is the ‘Dark Continent’ and part of me agrees with them. In the movie Blood Diamond, they claim that God left Africa a long time ago, and while many will agree with them, I cannot.
Even though I have seen and felt the great darkness that consumes the land of Africa, I have seen redemption. In the darkest corners of life, I have seen the greatest beacons of light shining out as hope.
In Uganda, we saw men and women serving a community, not because of good pay or job benefits, but because they loved the community and want to see it improve. We saw warriors who fought for each and every life that they encountered, through tender hands and kind hearts. I felt their healing touch as I battled Malaria and came through stronger than before.
I had the opportunity to work beside college students that had a passion and fire that burned brightly for these people. I saw missionaries, pastors, priests who brought truth to a country that was consumed by superstitions, lies and fear. I saw these beacons of light pierce the darkness that covered the land.
In Togo, I saw a passion in the people that could not be explained. It felt like they were fighting to find the truth, to escape the old ways of tribal practices and Voodoo worship. There were beacons of hope throughout the land, in the missionaries that served them, providing for their needs, to the pastors and church workers who were reaching out to the orphans and the children of the street, taking them in.
I saw more stories of redemption, of sacrifice, and of love in Togo than anywhere else I have gone. Though we were there to serve the people of Togo, the crew of the Africa Mercy had people ministering to and praying for them.
I have seen this darkness in other corners of the world. I have seen in here in the states, but I have only experienced it firsthand in Africa. To say that Africa is the only place where darkness hides would be a great deception. It resides anywhere that people are fighting for God, for when God moves, so do the agents of darkness and the workers of Satan.
The darkness resides in each of us too. Learn to fight it. Learn to be a beacon of light for others. For in the darkest of night, we see the greatest of lights piercing through.
God Bless and PEACE