May God be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.
Walking through New York City, you cannot miss being surrounded by the enormous flashing billboards, neon lights, and the array of advertisement convincing you to buy the latest iPad. Nor can you ignore the array of television informing you about the latest celebrity news, or the latest natural disaster half an ocean away. Living in New York City and walking among 8 million people, you can often feel alone despite the crowds. Being a college student in the city where the motto “if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere,” can make life very difficult for anyone.
Being a New Yorker attending a college in New York was different from the out of state experience. It was often hard for me live out my faith, and difficult to understand Matthew 5:13. However, that changed for me when I heard of stories of men planting trees. It allowed me to understand what it meant to live out my faith and letting God work amazing things through my college experience. It is when we let God be a light for us in dark places that all other lights go out.
It all begins with an acorn…do not despise small beginnings
In my college years, I would always try to find some leisure time to read despite the large amount of reading for history class. One story captured my imagination of what it meant to be a light on campus. The story, The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono tells of a man’s journey through the French Alps in 1910. He eventually stumbles upon a valley where he finds the ruins of a village, where the housing roofs were gone. Through this barren wasteland, he encounters a shepherd.
He learns about this shepherd’s life, finding out that he lost his wife and son. However, there was something unique about this shepherd. He laid out about 100 acorns and as he inspected these acorns, he picked the good ones out and proceeded to plant the acorns in the valley. The man eventually finds out the shepherd’s name: Elzeard Bouffier. He had been planting 100,000 thousand trees and about 20,000 thousand sprouted because half were lost to rodents, sheep or other unpredictable designs of providence. The man left the shepherd and continued on his journey. He would end up fighting in the First World War.
The man, traumatized and scarred after the war, returns to the place where he encounters this old shepherd. He eventually encounters the fruits of Elzeard Bouiffier’s hard work, which had produced a forest of trees after couple of years of war. Bouiffer had mainly planted trees in those years, and the forest was protected by the government and now an officer, unaware of this man’s work, guarded this forest. In addition, a small village resided around the forest, unaware of Bouiffer’s efforts, but thought of this as phenomena.
However, things changed when Europe was thrown into another War as the man leaves Bouiffer again. As he fights in the war, he wonders if this forest would survive or if Bouiffer would live. I found this interesting as our ministry faces the same challenges from huge opposition in the world, the enemy, and even family and friends when we live out our faith. It’s like a battlefield. Despite it all, Bouiffer continues on a mission that I felt God gave him and planted trees in the midst of chaos.
Being light means pointing to the source.
The story ends like this: after fighting in the Second World War, the man returned to where he first met Bouffier. He saw the immense forest that resided in the valley with the variety of trees and a thriving city. It was amazing how a one-man’s mission and vision came to pass in God’s timing and providence. The air and lives of people who lived around there were greatly affected. The once barren wasteland now had life.
The story ends with the man’s reflection:
When I reflect that one man armed only with his own physical and moral resources was able to cause this land of Canaan to spring from the wasteland, I am convinced that in spite of everything, humanity is admirable when I compute the unfailing greatness of spirit and tenacity of benevolence that it must have taken to achieve this result; there must be an immense respect for that old and unlearned peasant who was able to complete a work worthy of God.
As I ponder on the ending, I thought it was strange that this man was dedicated in restoring and bringing to life a place that was barren and dry. His humbleness displays something that we all need to understand in the role we play as a light in our campuses. It is to bring the glory back to God and ultimately our work may one day come to bear fruit. In addition, we are to change the landscape and bring life to the barren places. What we bring as believers in our relationship is the bread of life and a light that shines above all one person: Jesus.
Ultimately, these villagers and ranger parallel our peers, professors, friends and family. As we live out our faith in obedience and die to ourselves, our deeds and actions should point to the true source: God. Every work we do should be worthy of giving glory to God in every aspect of our college ministry.
Anthony Deng is the New York City Metro Campus Coordinator for Campus Renewal. He leads and coordinates volunteers for events such as One Cry and helps facilitate the New York City Metro Area student core team. Anthony was born and raised in New York City graduated from CUNY the City College of New York, and has a B.A in History and Asian Studies. Anthony gives New York City tours to freshmen of various campuses. On his tour, he teaches and shows students various hidden gems of New York City. On the side, he loves to collect college sweatshirts and t-shirts. In addition, he loves to play and watch basketball and football. He an avid fan of the Pacers & Colts.