RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--Spiritual darkness pervades many places -- not just isolated or "closed" regions, but some of the most crowded cities on earth.
I found two pockets of lostness -- one relatively small, the other enormous -- while exploring the challenge of global urbanization over the last two years. They represent many others.
The municipal dump at Dandora, just south of Nairobi, Kenya, stretches 30 acres. Thirty acres of smoking, untreated garbage, snaking like a miniature mountain range through shantytowns where some 600,000 people live. Every day trucks dump another 2,000 tons onto the stinking pile.
The dump symbolizes how the more affluent precincts of Nairobi deal with places like Dandora -- out of sight (or smell), out of mind.
"Around here, people get a raw deal," said Billy Oyugi, associate pastor of Dandora Baptist Church.
The typical Dandora family consists of a mother, a father (often absent) and five children living in two rooms. There's little access to medical care; you get sick, you pray to get better. Few jobs. Bad, dangerous schools. Hunger, crime, drugs, alcoholism, prostitution.
With the encouragement of Southern Baptist missionaries, however, Dandora Baptist is sharing hope. The church operates a medical clinic, helps HIV/AIDS patients, teaches job skills and sponsors a school for needy children. The congregation also sponsors home churches and runs a "Jesus Training Center" for believers.
"Our purpose is not just to reach the lost but to teach our members to do evangelism and discipleship," Oyugi said.
Especially young people. Catherine, now 20, grew up on a tough street, burdened by constant violence. She was expected to follow the pattern -- young, single motherhood, drugs and other self-destructive behaviors. Instead, she broke the pattern with the help of God and Dandora Baptist. She belongs to a band of young Christian adults who encourage each other and reach out to youth in local schools.
"I want to be an example to other girls in the community," she said. "How can I motivate them?"
In India, meanwhile, the mammoth city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) strains under the weight of more than 19 million human beings. Yet people keep pushing their way in. Nameless squatter communities sprout on almost any open space.
Harish and his family of eight live in two rooms on "disputed land" -- no one is quite sure who owns it. They share the area with a handful of other families, an unreliable water pump and a one-room schoolhouse.
"Our doors are always open to each other," Harish said. "Slum people are also human beings." It seems almost livable -- until monsoon rains come and flood the area with disease-laden sewer water.
Mumbai's nickname among Indians is "Maximum City" -- maximum people, maximum wealth, maximum poverty. Followers of Christ in the city add another: maximum darkness.
Most of Mumbai's millions "are so multi-generationally saturated in darkness and tradition that they don't know how to look for light," a Southern Baptist worker said. "It has such a grip on their lives that they can't get out of it."
Hindus are the vast majority. But the city also is home to 2 million Muslims, as well as Sikhs, Buddhists and members of virtually every people group in India.
How can the Gospel penetrate such a bastion of darkness? It already is.
Two Muslim-background followers of Christ, mentored by a Southern Baptist worker, are leading other Muslims to faith and beginning jama'ats -- indigenous groups of Muslim-background believers in Christ. Thousands of Muslims in the city and beyond it have heard the truth, despite opposition and persecution.
"They want to know the truth," the worker said.
Yes, darkness permeates the world, including its cities. But light is more powerful.
The Lord declares in Psalm 46:10: "I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."
Even now, He is being exalted in some of the darkest places on earth. Through your prayers and gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, you are helping lift Him up.
*Names changed for security reasons. Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board.
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