If you have ever traveled to a developing nation, you know what happens in those countries, while normal and expected there, can be unexpected from our perspective.
In Liberia, I’ve watched a cell phone tower erected over several weeks with nothing but pulleys, ropes, and wrenches. In Peru, I’ve seen children picking through trash piles for food. These are normal sights in those countries but we don’t expect to see them.
Listen to Phillip Yancey describe some surprising scenes from a recent trip he made to India.
“Cows, hundreds and thousands of them, blocking traffic, take naps in the middle of a busy highway, and eat the grass and flowers in public parks. The cows are sacred.”1
“Women in bright-colored saris squat along the roadside, cutting the grass by hand with
knives. An elephant wanders by, gaudily painted for a Hindu festival. A motorcycle zooms past: a young boy no older than two stands on the seat grasping the handlebars while behind him his six-year old brother is sandwiched between the father, who is driving, and the mother, who is sitting side-saddle and holding an infant fresh from the hospital (none of them wear helmets). A funeral procession marches down a side street to the beat of a drum, its mourners lighting firecrackers to scare devils from the cemetery.”2
He also describes India as a place with great contradictions. For example, how many of you have ever called tech support and ended up talking with someone in India?
It’s odd that while you are talking to someone from that country tell you how to repair your computer, people outside his or her window may have trouble finding a toilet or running water.
To add to the unexpected, in a land where many parents still arrange the marriages of their children, more doctors come from India than from any other country in the world. They account for 5% of all doctors in the United States. That means some of you have been healed by a doctor from India.3
It hasn’t always been this way.
The light that shines in the medical world in India came from an unexpected place: New Jersey. In the early 1800s, Dr. John Scudder of New Jersey became the first medical missionary to India. Amazingly, seven of his sons followed in his footsteps, all of them serving as missionary doctors in India.4
However, John’s granddaughter, Ida Scudder, vowed to do something different with her life. She planned to get married to someone with a non-medical career and settle in the United States. A visit to care for her ailing mother back in India during her early twenties changed her plans.5
“Late one night during that visit a Hindu Brahmin knocked on the door and asked for help; his 14-year-old wife was in great distress trying to deliver a child. Ida said she knew nothing about medicine but would notify her father. The man shook his head and responded, ‘Our religion does not permit a man to even look at my wife’s face,’ and went away crestfallen.” 6
“That same evening a Muslim and then another Hindu came with an identical request of help for their wives in childbirth. Each time Ida offered the same solution and each time the men turned it down, saying it was better that their wives die than be seen by a man. The next day all three young women were taken away in coffins.” 7
“From that dark night, Ida returned to the U.S. believing that God was calling her to carry a light back to India. She studied medicine at Cornell, becoming its first female medical graduate.” 8
She returned to India and founded a small clinic in Vellore in 1902 and then opened a nursing school for women and ultimately a medical school to train female physicians. 151 women applied the first year. Not until thirty years later did the school begin accepting male applicants. 9
Today CMC Vellore is ranked the number one private hospital in India and one of the most prestigious medical schools in Asia. It has 8500 employees and treats a million patients a year. 10
“The hospital retains a strong Christian emphasis. Posters with Bible verses decorate the hallways, doctors and nurses offer to pray with patients, and the hospital funds a large chaplaincy corps. The medical college selects 100 students a year from a pool of 30,000 applicants, giving strong precedence to those who agree to a two-year service with their sponsoring churches and missions. 11
This beacon of light shines because one woman had compassion for women who were dying of childbirth in India. Lights that shine in unexpected places are usually aided in such a way.
God finds willing people to transport light to dark places. He finds someone willing to make a sacrifice so others can find joy, peace, hope, and love.
Two thousand years ago God found a young girl named Mary to transport the light of the world into our darkness. She was willing to risk the abandonment of the man who was engaged to her. She was willing to risk being ostracized by her community. Joseph was going to divorce her quietly until he had his own experience with an angel.
Sometimes, the light comes in a dramatic way and we see the path before us clearly. We see the path God’s chosen for us. That doesn’t mean we always embrace it. People run from God’s calling every day.
Other times the light starts off dim, but over time, the light brightens and intensifies. We come to understand what it is God wants us to do and how He wants us to carry light into unexpected places.
God helped make it possible for us to find joy, peace, hope and faith through the birth of Jesus the day He became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)
Jesus later became known as the Great Physician as his unexpected gifts of healing were shared with people young and old.
Many of you have already forgotten what gift you received or gave for Christmas last year. More of you have forgotten what you received or gave two and three years ago. But what you never forget are those people who have been shining lights in your life, people who made sacrifices for you when life turned dark and gray.
This Christmas Eve, God might speak to you and show you how you can be a light in someone else’s darkness. God might speak to you in an unexpected way, or God might show you how His love can be shared with someone in an unexpected way.
When I was a child, WTVY in Dothan, Alabama showed visits with Santa during the Advent Season. Every day, a different group of pre-selected well-behaved children made it on television. I say well behaved because you never saw any child with behavior issues sitting at Santa’s feet. Either Santa or the T.V. station took that naughty and nice thing seriously.
Sitting there in my living room as a child, I vicariously sat in Santa’s lap as they shared what they wanted for Christmas.
At the end of each child’s visit with Santa, he would sum up their wish list and say, “and lots of surprises? Ho, Ho, Ho!” What child doesn’t want to be surprised at Christmas?
When we make sacrifices to bring light into the lives of others, the unexpected happens. Five loaves and two fish feed a multitude! A net cast out of a boat into a lake where men have fished all night is suddenly so full they cannot pull it into the boat! A mud pie made from a man’s spit
is rubbed into a man’s eyes and suddenly he can see! A man who has been dead three days walks out of a tomb still wrapped in his grave clothes!
When we listen to God and offer our lives as light in a dark world, we will be surprised at the love, joy, peace, and love that come.
Don’t you think Ida Scudder would be surprised today with her little hospital in India?
Because Jesus is born, light has been released in the world in unexpected places. Just as Mary pondered in her heart what the words of the angel meant to her, tonight will you ponder the ways you can offer yourself to God in ministering to others? All God asks is that you give what you have. Eventually, the light will shine in unexpected ways in unexpected places. You will be surprised and when you are, you will know that God has come.
3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Association_of_Physicians_of_Indian_Origin4 http://philipyancey.com/darkness-and-light-in-india
© Copyright 2014 by J. Michael Helms