By Grayson Hester
How can the Church be the light of the world if churches have no light?
Brooke and Mike, in their ministry in Southeast Asia, face this question every day. Far from a hypothetical thought exercise, the absence or presence of light can spell the difference between robust community and shadowed separation.
The villages in which they primarily work are often agrarian locations, far away from easily accessible (and affordable) electricity. The villagers, many of them barely scraping by on farmers’ wages, cannot pay for light.
In ways both practical and deeply theological, the church steps in to meet this need.
“In a community and a village which has no light, this church is very much a light on top of the hill,” Mike said. “People come there to congregate in the evenings, to talk, to chat, to play games, to meet, to do administrative things in the village. And so, the church has once again become the center of the community because of the light that they now have.”
The acquisition of this light can largely be owed to Rio, a local teacher who helps Brooke and Mike install solar panels for their churches.
While government-run electricity grids profit off gatekeeping – manufacturing a false scarcity in order to drive up prices – Brooke, Mike and Rio turn to that source to which we all enjoy access – the sun.
Not only is solar power renewable, it is reliable, especially in the tropical, sun-drenched locales of Southeast Asia. Harnessing it for electricity can, as such, be a very satisfying job.
“The thing that I like the most from my job is installing electricity,” Rio said. “I studied physics and renewable energy, so I really enjoy installing electricity using solar power.”
Truly a communal effort, this solar panel installation didn’t begin with CBF, with Brooke and Mike or even with Rio. Much credit goes to Rio’s teacher, Daniel, who maintains a relationship with the ministry and his former student.
Of course, it is not without its challenges. “For religious celebration days we must rent a generator. For a generator, we need to prepare 10 liters of gasoline. One liter of gasoline cost 10,000 [local currency],” Daniel said. Even then, the most well-lit churches can’t share their abundance if no one can get to them easily. Daniel and others must travel long distances to minister, an inconvenience that regularly borders on being an impediment.
But no more. “I think this is a blessing from God,” he continued. “God answers our prayers through our brothers and sisters in Christ by giving us solar energy.” His teaching, combined with Rio’s hands-on expertise and Brooke and Mike’s ministry experience, result in a potent expression of God’s love and the ways that it, like light, invariably brings us together.
The solar-panel-powered light allows people to gather for worship, and it also allows people to meet other needs, effectively transforming the church into the proverbial town square where business, community and life itself happen. “We have Thursday night Bible studies where we have dinner. We have women’s groups. We have men’s groups. We put on a few retreats during the year,” Brooke said. “We go to the beach; we go up to the mountains; we have game nights; we have karaoke nights; we’ve had yoga nights at our house. So just anything to get people involved.”
But this “en-lighten-ment” work doesn’t stop when the sun rises. True to CBF field personnel form, Brooke and Mike work ardently to ensure that the communities can continue the work in their absence. It’s the difference between swooping into a community and putting a Band-Aid on a problem, and engendering true fellowship among a community, empowering them to recognize and make use of their own assets and abilities.
In short, presence matters. “When we come to these churches, we’re not only just installing solar panels and leaving,” Mike said. “We’re also doing training for the community as to how they too can purchase and install effective solar lighting in their own homes safely and efficiently.” Being able to see late into the night helps women weave and earn money independent from farming; it helps kids complete their homework; it helps families sustain themselves.
Something to which most CBF churches never give a second thought is that without which Southeast Asian churches cannot survive. “Doing projects in [Southeast Asia], especially for the churches that really need it, makes me realize that light is very important,” Rio said. Light is as essential to a banquet as the table and the food sitting atop it. Without light, we cannot truly see each other, behold one other. Without light, we cannot relax into togetherness for fear of safety. Without light, there is no life. It is the substance of an invitation, what lends an extended hand. Installing a solar panel is, in effect, setting the table.
“One of the beautiful things that a church once told me was, ‘Because we now have this light, we can more effectively be the light of the world,’” Mike said.
The master of services, the head chef of this banquet, if you will, is a teacher who simply liked physics enough to put it into practice. “Even though it’s not perfect, I’m grateful that I can give a little help to the churches that need electricity,” Rio said.