• Reuben Saunders

The Pastor and the Pilot

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

Today, we live in dark times. It may sound cliché, but it is a truth, and a greater truth now than ever for so many. The UK has suffered more COVID-related deaths than ever before as I write this. And, according to Mr Biden’s speech earlier, it has now killed more US citizens than the Second World War – and this is the least of the story, as it continues to grip the entire world.

Still, Christ’s tender smile continues to shine through, even now. While we scramble together for reminders of lights to be found from amidst this darkness, each and every story matters during our fight against this pandemic, and all the evils we continue to face. People may be surprised, even, to find that His love appears now, strong as ever during such times as these. But we need only look for it; whether through beautiful flurries of snow, or simple acts of kindness from those we love around us – we can find it.

Perhaps some would not expect His love to shine as brightly as it does during these times. Many in the faith struggle to maintain a worship routine now, whether apprehensively entering our church or chapel with masks, hand sanitiser and social distancing at the ready, battling through confusing and oft-messed up phone services, or doing nothing at all. But God’s love, kindness, power, compassion, care, God’s everything – it’s still here: It is always here, wherever here is. There are countless stories, floating around whether by tongue or by memory, or in books, but there’s one that I think is particularly powerful, told through chapel services and over dinners throughout the years. We fly far away in this story to somewhere in Papua New Guinea, sometime in the second half of the 20th Century, and we find a map surveyor or two, trying to traverse across warring tribes. Picture Montague and Capulet, except the love story, is swapped with cannibalism.

Now, I think I should first make it clear that the belief that all non-Christian, non-European members of what was known to be the New World are savage, is archaic, and, frankly, wrong. To brand that which we do not understand as barbaric is nothing short of ignorance, usually based in a deep-rooted prejudice. That isn’t to say, however, that none of these places were plagued, with suffering. Evil, or at least the absence of good, permeates much of modern society to this day – whether that’s European, Christian, Islam, black, white, whatever. The human condition allows that we continually battle between good and evil, and, naturally, both have always shown themselves in all corners of the world.

We have all heard stories about Pacific islander tribes eating each other – how many of these stories are grounded, in truth, I can’t say. This story doesn’t start pleasantly, though. Those map surveyors were killed. Eaten. This was a place of darkness, both tribes against one another, consistent bloodshed either side.

A few years later, a missionary travelled there. A pilot.

Upon arrival to the country, he met with a local pastor, who he would travel with to where these aforementioned cannibalistic tribes lived, on a small plane. And they did travel on this plane, only for their journey to be cut short between destinations when a violent tropical storm broke out, clouds black, thunder cracking, rain bursting from every seam. You can imagine the ordeal of trying to land. They managed to, somehow. Stuck in this jungle wilderness were two men, a missionary from Europe, and a local Papuan person. And in this wind and rain, the latter came up and made them a shelter.

The two men got talking. The missionary, wrote of how kind and pleasant a man he was, as they spoke throughout that evening under the shelter he’d put together. They talked about what got them there, what lives they had lived, what life they were living now.

They continued to talk throughout the night, enjoying each other’s company, stuck there in that makeshift shelter surrounded by torrential rain and the blackened wilds around them, that thunder, probably sounding ever closer with every strike. The pastor had found them food, as well as shelter.

It was only a matter of time until the full story was told. The missionary found himself asking the man what brought him to God – what had brought him onto this path. This indigenous man, so kind and good, he had lived a life of corruption and sin. He told the missionary that he had found Jesus whilst in prison. He, himself, had been a cannibal. Whether or not he was involved in the eating of those people from before, I couldn’t tell you. But this man shed blood. And he ate some of those whom he had killed.

Beside this former killer, this former cannibal, born from a world of darkness, this missionary wrote in his accounts that he slept there, beneath that shelter, whilst his new friend stayed awake by his side to keep watch of the night.

And he wrote,

“I slept like a baby.”

There is kindness, and there is joy in every corner of the world, whatever corner that is, whichever people inhabit it. Even, in warring, cannibalistic tribes, and even, evidently, within the walls of prison. And there are countless other stories in a similar vein, too.

Of those I have heard alone, I could recall the tale of a Christian within the confines of a prisoner of war camp, and what a difference his gentle grace made on the prisoners around him (The Miracle on the River Kwai). I could recall of the difference a single lotus flower made, planted in the mud of a woman suffering from addiction’s home in China, and how she became enlightened by God’s tender joy through its beauty, thus overcoming her problems. And I could tell you, about an instance in Hong Kong, when it was occupied by Japan during the Second World War: One Christian from the Japanese army, made so much change, in a pocket of the world so rife with pain.

All these stories could serve the same purpose, each an apt reminder that no matter what the situation, place or people, the joy of Christ’s love is here. As we continue to traverse through a winter as bleak as it is brutal, perhaps we need these reminders. We need only seek Him out.

There are flowers sprouting, as I write this. Perhaps the snowdrops flowering despite this winter is His sign to us that things will get better. That there is always love across the horizon, however grim or desolate that horizon may be.

Wherever there is winter, there is spring. Wherever there is hate, there is joy. And wherever there is darkness, there is light.

Photo creds: Adriele Viera on Pexels


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