Pastoral Perspectives

A Walk In The Dark

A highlight of last year’s YZ (Youth Zone) camp must have been the solo walk along one of the many trails on the fun filled island of Sentosa. It was in the wee hours of the morning. The air was cool, more so because the vegetation surrounding the trail was quite thick. It was of course dark. Even if the stars were out, we did not see them because over arching our heads were trees, their branches, and layers upon layers of them. It was quiet except for the shrill sound of crickets and occasional startling hoots from nocturnal birds. Thankfully, the ground was surprisingly soft, the sole of our track shoes providing additional cushion. We need not worry about twisting our ankles due to pot holes because there was none. Nor were there tree roots protruding from the ground, ready to trip over any careless legs that trespass their territory.

An exciting environment and an exhilarating experience awaited us. We dispatched the campers one by one at an interval of 3 minutes so that there could be some distance between two campers. Except for the marshals that were strategically positioned along the trail and greeted or frightened (not deliberately) the walkers along the way, the latter had to complete the journey alone. The whole walk took about 7 to 10 minutes. Some were brave or at least they looked brave and they were pretty cool about the whole experience. Others had to just bite the bullet and go through the ordeal. A handful insisted that they were not going to enter the darkness alone so in the end the organisers relented and paired them up. Still others caught up with one another along the way, some deliberately because they were just dying for company while others did so only because either they were walking too fast or the person in front was walking too slow. I am sure the experience would have left a lasting impression on many of the campers but as for me, it was the debrief that happened the following day in broad day light in the comfort of our Multi Purpose Hall that was most meaningful. Allow me to flash out for you the precious lessons we drew from the whole experience, some are from the campers while others are my own because I too had the opportunity to walk the trail and be one of the marshals that waited alone for quite awhile for the people to come.

Many who were frightened shared that they prayed, one sang and one recited Scriptures (but there might be more). The one who recited Scriptures remembered Psalm 23.4: “Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death, I fear no evil…” but she confessed that she wasn’t sure of the verse and only managed to recite whatever her desperate mind could scramble from her faint memory. I am really encouraged that these young people turned to the best Person when they were in a helpless state and I hope that when they go through their dark seasons of life in the future they will do the same – pray, sing, recite Scriptures. How important it is for us to know our Scriptures well. It will be so frustrating when we are in a certain situation and we know that a helpful verse exists but we cannot quite lay our fingers on it. Think about the walk. Even if one had a Bible at hand, it was of no use because the place was so dark! So knowing our Scriptures from memory has its benefits.

Many would prefer to walk in the company of another person. Somehow two are always better than one. When there is someone you can talk to, someone who can help to turn your attention to something more positive rather than let your imagination run wild, the walk will be less painful. How true it is for us embarking on our trail of life. “Two are better than one…if one falls down, his friend can help him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4.9-10) We cannot be lone rangers in our faith pilgrimage. No man is an island. We need each other and all the more when we go through difficult times. Sadly, some of us choose to journey alone. Maybe we don’t want to bother people, thinking that others have their fair share of burdens to bear. Maybe we are too proud to admit that we need help. Maybe we have been hurt before for being authentic and we have a ‘once bitten twice shy’ mentality. Maybe we value our privacy too much to be willing to share anything personal. Whatever the excuse is, it is an excuse. God’s community should make up of real people who refuse to wear masks. Only then will we truly be able to support each other in this journey that we take together.

Along the trail, in the midst of the thick vegetation, there was suddenly an opening on the right for reason I knew not of. The view wasn’t block by any trees or branches and what awaited my eyes brought much delight. There was a beautiful Christmas tree in the distance and I could see it clearly because it was made up of solely of lights topped by a nice big star. When I asked the campers who caught a glimpse of that beautiful sight, only one did. The rest were oblivious to it. When we go through our shadowy valleys, most of the time we are so overwhelmed by the darkness that we fail to notice the blessings that come our way. In the midst of our trials, we can still pause to give thanks and there will always be things to give thanks to God for. If you have a chance to speak with Eric and Suppon, you will realise that they are filled with thanksgiving for the little blessings around them even though their plight is so heart wrenching. These are people whose faith is really anchored on the Lord of hosts and their thankful hearts go a long way to sustain them for the joy of the Lord is indeed their strength.

I was the last marshal before the campers reached the end of the trail and I smiled to myself whenever I heard the rousing cheer that greeted those who had just completed their journey. There was excitement. They shared their experience. They laughed at each other. I smiled because I am reminded of the cheer that awaits us when we complete our earthly journey. Not only will we be welcomed by our Master, we will also be welcomed by the great cloud of witnesses and I can imagine (sanctified creativity at work here) the excitement and the buzz. People who have gone before us will come and give us a hug and a pat on our shoulders. Those whom we have impacted, even unknowingly, will come and say ‘Thank You’ to us. Oh! What a time of rejoicing so that when we look back on our temporary earthly pain, they will mean nothing to us. Didn’t Paul say, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that faroutweighsthemall”? (2 Cor 4.17)

How we appreciate light after we came out of the dark. Light will always overwhelm darkness and not the other way round. I recall walking the path leading to the start of the trail. The path was surprisingly lit with red dotted lights on both sides, marking out very clearly for us where we should be putting our feet on. But when we were on the trail, there was no guiding light and the difference was stark! The Psalmist says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119.105) Why do we so often not want to follow the light and instead walk in darkness? Why do we land up in disorientation, discouragement, distress, desperation when deliverance is a light throw away?

We don’t need to wait till we have a chance to walk a night trail before we start thinking of precious lessons we can draw from such an experience. If we make an effort to slow down and to be more observant of the world around us, we will be surprised how even our day to day experience can serve to reinforce some very important spiritual truths. No wonder Jesus taught in parables and His parables always had to do with the day to day activities of the people which they could fully appreciate, making His teachings very powerful for His hearers! The next time you take a walk, even if it is only to the bus stop, be sure to observe what goes on around you and you can be in for a surprise!

Ps Kien Seng

January 16, 2011