When I lived and worked in South Sudan, the Bible came alive for me. We lived in a tribal, rural setting without electricity and running water. Living one day took all the human effort and energy one has. It really helped me to understand the conditions the characters in the Bible lived through.
The following blog post is from a blog I read regularly authored by doctors who serve just south of where I lived. They're across the Nile from South Sudan in Northern Uganda. It's a little more modern there. Sometimes there's electricity. It's more like the wild west. Read this account of the Christmas Story...
There are two accounts of the actual Christmas Night in the Bible: Luke 2, and Revelations 12. Yesterday for our staff CME/Bible study, we looked at both stories, printed out in parallel on a page. First we read Luke 2, and I asked every few verses for people to describe what they would have seen if they had been there. For the most part, it would have looked a lot like every-day Bundibugyo life: a pregnant woman, crowds, walking; chaos of disruption caused by arbitrary governmental decrees; the onset of labor at an inconvenient time and the search for a protected spot; sharing a shelter with animals; giving birth in unhygienic conditions without medical care; a not-quite-married pair of inexperienced parents; a baby wrapped up in scraps of cloth; the potential for death always quietly stalking in the background. Such a sequence of events could unfold today, here, unnoticed, because it is common. In fact it probably will, today and most days.
Then we turned to Revelations: here the pregnant woman is clothed with the sun and wreathed by the stars. Here the labor is on a cosmic scale. Here the baby is directly threatened by the waiting, gaping, hungry, evil jaws of a fiery dragon. Here the birth culminates in a barely-in-time rescue, sweeping the infant up to the very throne of Heaven. And here the sequence of events triggers a celestial war, with angels and demons and victory and defeat. I don't think most of the staff had read this before, and they were fascinated, laughing nervously. Because in Africa we don't doubt the pervading precence of the spiritual world, and the danger of the devouring dragon.
Both accounts are true pictures of reality: one a picture of that which was seen by human eyes, and one a picture of the unseen events that were occurring in the spiritual realm.
So we were encouraged to remember that what we see here, happening, tangibly before our eyes, is only a partial truth. The long line of patients with their needs represents dozens of lives in the balance, with eternal consequences. The tiny jaundiced newborn who responds to IV antibiotics so painstakingly given represents a victory that might be mirrored in a heavenly battle. The choice to come to work when most of the world around us is consumed in selling their cocoa and buying new clothes for Christmas day represents the kind of courage mentioned in Rev 12:11, the kind that overcomes evil, forever.
A few people in Luke 2 got to glimpse both realities, to see the material events in real time while recognizing their reflected spiritual impact. Mary, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna. For some, because God by grace overwhelmed them with inescapable visions. For others, because they had dedicated themselves to the search, and recognized God's hand in events. I'm praying to become that sort of person, grounded in the hands-on messiness of life and death on the streets and stables of our earth, but able to see the pattern of God's work, and be carried along by faith and hope, the unshakable evidence of things not seen.