Off the Map

Date posted: Thursday 29 December 2016

Imagine, if you will, a map of the earth at night with the lights of the cities shining brightly into outer space. The familiar shapes of the United States and Western Europe are clearly visible and - to a lesser extent - South America and many countries in Asia. Japan appears as a glowing crescent off on the right, India stands out against the murkiness of South Asia, and the boot of Italy can be seen kicking things up in the inky black of the Mediterranean.
Closer to home, the sprawling megalopolis that is the Northeast demonstrates the coalescing of power (electrical and otherwise) in cities like New York and Washington DC. Moving inland, the Great Lakes appear as dark jewels in the glowing rustbelt of the industrial Midwest and Chicagoland. Minneapolis and Saint Paul appear together as a North Star of sorts, beyond which the dots of light become more scattered throughout the great plans and mountains of the American West until they coalesce again in a blinding streak along our Pacific Coast.
While every analogy has its limits, this view from some 500 miles above the earth's surface at night functions as a pretty good stand-in and map for the modern, energy-dependent, technologically developed world as we know it. 
Africa, you'll note, is largely absent. Apart from a narrow strip in the North, along the Mediterranean, and a dense pocket in the South, there is but the faintest dusting of manmade light across this continent - the world's second largest and second most populous.
Zooming in to East Africa, along the coast of the Indian Ocean you can pick out Mombasa, Kenya and bit south of that, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - a city of nearly 5 million. If you know where to look and squint just hard enough you can begin to identify Iringa Town - just barely discernible as a couple of lightly shaded pixels. Despite having a population of some 50 million, from a macro-level view of our world at night, a place like Tanzania is, essentially, wilderness.
And yet light - the Light of Christ ­- is there. 
Like a vision described in the book of Isaiah, when you risk to venture off the map of the world that you know, you will find in that so-called wilderness a place that teems with life in surprising and miraculous ways.
In Tanzania, as is true across Africa and other parts of the Global South, God's Spirit is alive and God's Spirit is active. Lay leaders walk as evangelists down dusty paths, churches are booming, and new life is emerging in places that have long-been written off by many as lost or unproductive. As we accompany our companions in Iringa, we find ourselves on the front-line of a remarkable phenomenon, as God's Spirit is made manifest in the lives of the people there in incredibly palpable and hospitable ways.
This Christmas season, light is breaking though the darkness and a voice is rising in the wilderness that just might have the WORD that we need to hear. And this is good news.
The Rev. Peter Harrits, Director of Bega Kwa Bega and Assistant to the Bishop
(Photo via NASA)