From pitch darkness to great light
At 23, I had just completed my first year at our Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia. I was hungry to experience ministry, and I wanted to explore a non-church setting. I accepted a 10-week assignment as resident chaplain for Valley Forge Boy Scout Camp in eastern Pennsylvania.
Things went very well. I related to the Scouts, their leaders, and their professional staff as I melded into my role. At the close of each day’s activities, campers gathered for muster to ensure all was well. We closed with evening prayer.
One gloomy night, a troop reported that one of its Scouts was missing. The camp director inquired when the Scout was last seen. After a long wait, two Scouts came forward and admitted that they had tied up a rookie Scout to a big tree deep into the woods. The plan was that he would free himself and it would be a good “Scout experience.” When he didn’t show for supper, they got worried. Now it would soon be pitch dark on this overcast night.
Mobilizing quickly, the professionals and leaders organized hunting parties after the Scouts returned with their ponchos and flashlights. They fanned out into sectors, organized a central command station, and the camp director called the local volunteer fire department for assistance. They came with their trucks and search lights and special skills. With the wailing sirens, townspeople showed up as well. The mission was clear. As it began to rain, we knew we had to find this missing Scout.
With flashlights, sounding horns, and calls for “Bobby,” everyone was anxious to find him. By now, it was well past midnight. Still no sign. The boys who tied their buddy to a tree were confused as to where they actually took him.
Finally around 1:30 a.m., the shouts came ringing forth: “We found him! We found him!” Everyone rushed to the command post and began cheering and celebrating. The camp director invited everyone into the mess hall for hot chocolate.
The leaders used this collective time for a teaching moment. Everyone needed to gain insight: such things as what not to do in jest and how to use good sense in having fun. We talked about the lessons of Scouting: the lost Scout stayed put after getting free and didn’t try to get out of the woods on his own, he snuggled under a rock overhang to avoid the rain, waited for help to come, and he tried not to panic — pitch darkness was all around.
It was the best camping experience we all could have had. We were grateful to God for this gift of salvation, from what could have been a most tragic event. As chaplain, I asked that we all pause for a moment in prayer to thank God for his help and presence. It was an opportunity to bring this experience to a thankful closure. I privately praised God for this chance to witness to His graciousness and love.
It is not unlike our scripture lesson, Isaiah 9:2b, 6-7: “The people have seen a great light, for those living in a pitch dark land, light has dawned.” The darkness, isolation, fear and anguish are no longer threats. Isaiah declares “light has come!” We now declare it, too
Dear Father, your great promise is ours in the Advent of our Lord. Thank you for sending your son to be our light in the pitch darkness of our sinful world. Amen.
by David Nelson