Impossible flames

The light shines year-round at NOAH Project in Detroit. Earlier this year a celebration was held to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Bag Lunch Program. ~Facebook/NOAH Project

Isaac Dunn, a young adult missionary serving in Detroit, blogs about his experience of Christ’s shining Light.


ISAAC DUNN
Global Mission Fellow, Detroit

There’s a special quality about a flame which draws us in, focuses our attention, and calls us to reflection. For me, that special quality is simply how a flame looks out of place. It can appear in an instant, but if it is not nurtured, it extinguishes just as fast as it ignited. Flames appear to exist somewhere beyond our present world, yet decide to cohabit our world for a short amount of time.

The phenomenon seems impossible. Writers in both the Old and New Testament must have held this same fascination with flames, because there are several analogies between flame and God scattered throughout their collective writings. Moses encounters a burning bush (Exodus 3:2). A psalmist writes that God’s word is like a lamp for our path (Psalms 119:105). John’s Gospel begins with talking about a light being born, a light which nothing can overtake (John 1:5). Psalm 27:1 pronounces God as both Light and Salvation. Jesus even claims that we, as people of God, can shine as lights for others, illuminating God’s holy love for all (Matthew 5:13-16).

I remember the day that I became an acolyte in my home church. I was ten, shy, and never had a role in morning worship, so I was excited for a chance to be part of something so important. The acolyte coordinator, Ms. Brenda, made sure I knew all the necessary parts of becoming an acolyte, including when to light the acolyte candle, when to walk to the altar, how to hold the acolyte stick. By the end of her training, she had fully convinced me of my responsibility as part of morning worship. During some of those first Sundays as an acolyte, I’d light the candles and watch them diligently from the first pew, ready to run to the rescue if one of them were to extinguish. It was also during this time that I realized how important that flame was, and how it helped focus worship.

In Detroit, the temperature has dropped to below freezing and the days have become much shorter. Working at a homeless social service agency, this is an especially difficult season. At a time in which society seems to run on an endless supply of shopping, carols, smiles, and conversations of who’s going where to visit family during the holidays, we at the NOAH project continue to journey along those in crisis. As temperatures drop, both uncertainty and fear rise. There have been days these past few weeks where I hoped I wouldn’t see anyone in line at NOAH’s doors, because that means they’ve probably been standing out in frigid temperatures for hours. Some of my hardest sessions as a caseworker took place in these past few weeks. Darkness, strife, struggle, and hurt are now part of my everyday conversations. However, Advent continues to bring me hope.

During Advent, many Christian communities use candlelight to represent the communal expectation for Christ’s coming into the world. We label these candles, one for each week: hope, love, joy, and peace. Advent is a time of waiting, a time at which to look at all the gifts that Jesus’ birth brings to us. Advent also happens in the midst of life, which is full of struggles, death, hopelessness, and fear. Yet even in the bleakness of winter, I have seen flames in those around me and I am reminded of Advent.

” … even in the bleakness of winter, I have seen flames in those around me.”

A client sits in my office and tells me of their struggle to find housing and work. However, in the midst of their struggle, they boldly claim that they will continue to trust in their Creator. They confidently know they’re loved, and there are those in their family that bring them joy. I see the flame of hope pushing back the fear.

Another client comes to ask me whether I have a Christmas or birthday card he could give to his daughter. I tell him to wait as I print off one of each. As I hand them over, this gentleman pulls me into a hug, wishes me a Merry Christmas and thanks me for all that we do. The flame of love illuminates the faces of those we seek to love.

On the day before we close for Christmas vacation, a client stops me five times throughout the day, each time wishing me a Merry Christmas. The last time he does this, I pull him into a hug and tell him I can’t wait to see him after the break. Together, we spark a light that produces joy.

The most memorable moment in this season came at the most unexpected time. I was coming down the stairs to help bring in lunch from some volunteers when a client stopped me, grabbed me by the shoulder and told me he had accepted Christ into his life. He proceeded to tell me about the circumstances which led him to his recent revelation. He told me that since he accepted Jesus, for the first time in 20 years, he felt that he wasn’t alone. He was quick to acknowledge that he still had problems, that he was still a work in progress, yet he was beginning to see the world in a new light. And the flame of peace shines bright for all to see.

As I’ve thought about this moment over the last few weeks, I believe this man made a great insight. Christ’s light doesn’t change our surroundings, nor does Christ coming into the world simply erase all of its struggles. However, the way we see our world shifts. What was once dark and full of shadows gains focus with flame. Likewise, the way we interact with our surroundings changes.

May you remember the light of Christ and shine so that others may be able to see and share in the joy, hope, peace and love. 

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