by Linda Bond, Commissioner –
It’s a “given” that traveling throughout the territory gives you a perspective that can’t be gained at the boardroom table. There are some places you need to see for yourself to get the feel for what is really happening there. Even second-hand information may be very accurate but inadequate. And there are some visits that, while similar in program to others, are somehow different and life-changing.
A few Sundays ago, I spent the day in San Bernardino. Ever since, one line of prophecy relating to the coming of Jesus keeps playing in my head—”the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” I sensed the darkness and saw the light.
The day began with a meeting at the Adult Rehabilitation Center. The chapel was crammed full of men, some looking quite uncomfortable in their Sunday-go-to-meeting shirts and ties. Their faces were marked with a life-story of addiction, brokenness and regrets. Had I asked them to describe their darkness, they could have painted it in bold, dark strokes. And yet, in their testimonies and their singing, you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Light had come. Jesus had come into the world to save and they wanted a part in the salvation story.
One could surmise that to move from the ARC meeting to the Sunday school would be an experience in contrasts, from the regretted pasts to the light-heartedness of youth. Not so. The ninety in attendance were mainly children but in their decade, they had lived a lifetime. Informal chats exposed stories that sounded like the bylines of the TV show “Law and Order”—parents in prison, environments of addiction, the neighbor holding his family hostage, broken homes, gang-infested communities. Yet in the darkness, light! Christ in flesh, yet again. Light that’s not only visible but embracing. Corps officers, youth workers beaming grace. You can’t keep these kids away. No need of contests to draw them in. To go to the Army is to belong and to be loved.
The story can be repeated for those who attended the morning meeting. They know hardship. Many moved into the community when the three major industries moved out and employees’ houses were going cheap. But there are some problems you can’t leave behind in your old neighborhood. What do we know of their darkness, a pitch-blackness that “fills up their senses like a night in the forest”? I had gone with a sermon that seemed to be red-hot—a fine exegesis of Psalm 89, praising the Lord’s faithfulness even when life seems to be dripping through the cracks.
But my planned approach was all wrong. What did they care about the Psalmist’s lament of David failing to realize his dreams of a dynasty? There were far more earthy studies of David that would be more appropriate. But adultery and murder themes would be a repetition of more bad news. They know darkness; they need to know that the Light has come. And so good news was the order of the day. God is faithful to forgive and to cleanse; God is faithful to keep us when we’re tempted; he is faithful to help us to live pure lives in an impure world. These are the Light themes we are free to deliver thanks to Christmas; the gentle response to the mercy seat reminded us that such grace is not only desperately needed but gladly received.
As we moved through the day, the contrast of darkness and light was almost tangible. The visit to the areas devastated by the wildfires highlighted the despair being replaced with hope as makeshift, handwritten signs, declared, “We’ll be back!”; the program of a transitional house for recovering addicts, taking bold steps to prepare to re-enter society, convinced that life for them was now radically different thanks to Jesus; the shelter, where families moved from homelessness, violence, or shattered relationships to a place that offered safety and purpose; the open air meeting at the soup line, where one, old disheveled man left his place in line to stand close to the messenger for words that would cause him to hope again.
The Light has come! Jesus, the light of the world shattered the darkness when he burst upon the horizon of the world. But the Light still shines. Ask those who come into his presence in San Bernardino.