Across the bristling grasses and the breezy palm tree dance lies a long lagoon, all liquid, mirror for the sky’s expanse. Underneath a white-hot sun it becomes a brilliant blast and my eyelids squint to slivers letting just a glimmer past: just the essence of the power, just the outline of the heat, just impressions of the splendor and the tantalizing beat. If, laid open to God’s shining, I could be but half as bright, mirror molten by reflecting glory of the Living Light, fire ignited in the noon glow as I’m changed beneath his rays, eyes around would have to notice my resemblance to his Blaze.
While walking down Ferke’s main road one morning I met the man in the photo above. He had no idea what the words on his shirt meant, but was excited to be greeted and delighted that I wanted a picture of it. I did try to explain to him that it was what followers of Jesus are told to do: to share the light that is actually Jesus, the Light of the World. He didn’t get it, did not even respond—I think he may even be one of those people who need mental help but have no way to access it. There are those in these streets.
Have you ever wondered what would really let your light shine? It’s interesting to contemplate: Jesus is the Light of the World, yet we are also told to be lights!
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn. 8:12 NIV)
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:14 NIV)
The only way we can be the “light of the world” is through our relationship with the Light of the World. When he lives in us, he can shine through us. If we follow him, letting him transform us to be like him, then his light shines more and more brightly.
Why do we want to shine? So that others “may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven!” It is not about us, but about inciting praise of the one who is pure Light:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (1 Jn. 1:5 NIV)
So we are supposed to stand out in a luminous way. For those of us with a strong tendency to introversion, this can be a challenge. I admit that it has taken years for me to realize that standing out, as someone different, can actually be a boon.
I actually had to learn to put up with it early in my childhood, growing up in Africa. When you have white skin and live in an area with few others like you, you draw attention. I went to the U.S. for my senior year of high school and found out I was so different (a Third-Culture Kid) that I could not fit into that American teen culture—it took a few months to accept that and discover other ways to make friends. When I returned as a missionary and had little children, it was never surprising when someone would reach out to touch their straight hair. They just looked so different than those around them. When we were living in high-risk times and were required to draw up plans for hiding out and escaping via back roads we kept muttering, “Anyone know how hard it is to blend in? We could not hide for long!”
But through the years it became more and more clear that we should turn things around and see how the Lord could use our difference.
As I did cultural research, one thing I kept asking was, “How have you seen missionaries do things that delight people, and what has been hard?” One outstanding comment was: “Nurse Linda Sharp always smiles! We love that.” And I heard it about others too, that it is deeply appreciated when they notice those around them and interact with them.
I learned that for me, usually in my office working on linguistics and translation, my unusual opportunities to shine, or stand out, came when I was walking in town, especially if I spoke to people in Nyarafolo. I would greet a vegetable seller and ask the price, and instead of answering she would turn to a neighbor to exclaim, “She speaks Nyarafolo!” She knew no other White who could do that! When I was walking from our courtyard to a church during our process of checking our Nyarafolo drafts of Scripture with groups, I would be carrying my bright locally-made computer bag. Several times a woman would ask me, “Where are you going every day? What are you carrying?” And I would tell them about the Bible being translated into Nyarafolo, and that we would have it read to an audience and hear their responses. Shock! Amazement! Seeds planted!
And it is still that way. During this visit I’m living in a different part of town than I used to, and the best way for me to get in my daily walk is to follow the main road from the hospital south to the big high school, Lycée Moderne, then back. It is early morning. Students are walking to class, women are putting out their garden produce to sell, men are opening up their stalls that sell all sorts of goods. If I were to just walk past them, saying nothing, they would definitely think I was just a tourist. I sometimes hear them comment to each other in the trade language, Dioula, “There goes a tubabu muso!” – a “white woman.” They are surprised when I turn and wave and greet them in Nyarafolo or French, whichever fits the case. And I greet the women who look at me as I pass, using Nyarafolo. Even if they are Nyarafolo, they often answer in Dioula (the trade language), assuming that is what I must speak, then the jaw drops and they switch to their mother tongue and test me to see how far I can go in conversation. Having been marginalized for decades, their language dismissed as too complicated, they are delighted and feel affirmed. The next time I pass them, they call out their greeting in Nyarafolo, or even shout my Nyarafolo name, “Penyuonekuo!” It has become not only fun, but an opportunity to tell some of them that their language is written, and that if they go over to the courtyard behind the monument (to those who died serving France in WWII, in the city square), there are books available and people who can teach them to read.
Now that is just a start. But it opens a door to communication. One student I talked with is Nyarafolo and attends a local church. As we chatted, she expressed her desire to have her own Bible! If I see her again we will arrange that. Another one only speaks French with me; she is Peul, or Fulani, from a Muslim family. She seems to really want to connect with this friendly American and even calls me in the evening. I am hoping we can meet to talk in more depth.
One morning I was in a Mauritanian-owned “Superette” at the far end of town, my first time there, so I was talking to the man behind the counter and he was telling me that he is a friend of Josh Wohlgemut, one of the other missionaries here. Then a young woman came up behind us, stocking some shelves, and she greeted me in Nyarafolo. After greeting her back I asked, “So do you know me?” “No,” she said, “but I know you speak Nyarafolo!” So word is getting around.
Now if only I were going to be here longer, I would be able to follow up on more of these contacts. But it is underlining for me how vital it is that an enticing light be shining from me, wherever I am. Jesus said that the way people will know we are his followers is if we follow his commands, and love one another. And he sends us into the world to tell others about his love, and to “shine”. That is what happens here when suddenly a woman passing me stops and greets me with delight because we’ve known each other in the past, and we begin sharing in whatever language we have in common. A Nyarafolo conversation starts a buzz among those nearby in the market, for instance—they can’t believe someone has actually learned their language and knows other Nyarafolos here! It is respect they rarely experience. When we turn and show unusual love in some way to others it is a moment that shines his light. People may not recognize it at first—just as many did not understand his light when he came (John 1) but it still shone, and many did eventually decide to walk in his light.
What if I just kept to myself and ignored everyone? What would that say about me, to them? Here, it would mean I don’t care, that I see myself as separate. There are those who don’t meet my eyes, looking down or away; that is their way of showing timidity or discomfort. So I respect that. But then there is the other side. Sometimes they will suddenly look up, see a smile, and smile back when they are noticed. Often they are the ones in rags, or limping. And if it is an older man in Muslim dress, sure, then as a woman, I should not connect. Wherever we are we can learn what is respectable conduct.
These past years of retirement we are back to living in Detroit, as we did during that evacuation 2002-2006 and then periodically for furlough/home assignment. Now it is home. Living in a mostly Black neighborhood, one thing that is extremely different from the suburbs is that people actually greet each other when meeting on a sidewalk or in a store. We really enjoy that. My husband Glenn leapt to the challenge of fitting in that way with delight. He goes up to an older woman working at a service desk, greets her and asks how her grandchildren are doing (if she is looking at photos or something that clues him in). The sparkle in her response shows that she sees she is being acknowledged as a real person, not just a clerk. Even at a busy cash register there is usually a good moment to say “Hi!” and ask how things are when it is so busy.
I do feel like a neon sign, in both worlds. There is no way not to stand out, my skin setting me apart as rare in these contexts. Seeing this as a phenomenon that the Lord can use to show acceptance, to cross racial barriers, to encourage people, makes a huge difference. And in this town where Americans are known to be connected to the Baptist Hospital, to the mission, people are watching to see what such Christians are like. Experiences have taught me that the Light of the World can definitely shine through when we do what he says, and show love rather than ignoring people and walking right on by.
When in a place where I don’t stand out that way, such as in a long line at an airport, there have been occasions when I felt that prompting to chat with the person waiting beside me. Once in a while it has led to truly unexpected openings. This can happen to any of us when we pay attention!
I still have learning to do. I want to “blaze” in a way that will draw people to the Light, wherever I am, not push them away. This is our calling, all of us who are the light of the world, to show God’s love in what we do and how we act toward others. We are not to hide our light, but to let it light up “everyone in the house” (Mat 5:14). Wow! Blaze!
A friend recently posted this C.S. Lewis quote that is truly relevant: “Don’t shine so others can see you. Shine so that through you others can see him.”
6 thoughts on “Blaze!”
Love it! ________________________________
Thank you, Donna. Iâll bet it brought back some memories for you, as well as current opportunities!
It sure did! ?? I’ve been following your facebook posts. God is granting you so many times of fellowship, refreshing, and ministry and connection. It’s always so fun to see how he works. Love, Donna ________________________________
Thank you! I’ll bet this brought back memories to you, times when you stood out as a kid/youth and even currently. You blaze!
What a very powerful image of the value of letting God’s light shine through us!! I will strive to keep this image with me as I go about my life. Thank you Linn!!
I know you can shine brightly, Lynn! Jesus is walking with you.