Before it Gets Dark

December 28, 2016
Phil Johnson, Ph.D.

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s hard not to think back over all that has happened – with new events marking the final days of the year. 2016 has been peppered with contentious issues like the U.S. presidential election, China’s growing aggression in the South China Seas, the assassination of a Russian Ambassador by a Turkish policeman, the terrorist attack in Berlin on a Christmas market that claimed at least a dozen innocent lives (and wounded 48 others), the ongoing historic refugee crisis in Europe and the absolutely appalling situation in Aleppo, Syria where so many civilian men, women and children have been murdered by their government and others.
Yes, the world, at times, seemed very dark in 2016. Other recent years have had their own shades of darkness as well. As I glance back in my own rear-view mirror, I remember the places I’ve been and people I’ve spoken to.  Their stories echo in the chambers of my heart and mind:
  • Talking to graduate students in Kabul, Afghanistan who wondered if it was possible to be ethical and successful at the same time – while government corruption and suicide attacks had become a constant feature of life.
  • Interviewing Parisians after the unexpected and violent ISIS attack in November of 2015. It was like interviewing Zombies. People walked around as if they couldn’t quite get their minds around this level of personal attack. Their world had changed and no one had given them advanced notice. (Or they simply weren’t paying attention to global trends…)
  • Visiting with Syrian refugees in Egypt several years ago and watching videos of the results of chemical weapons attacks on Syrian civilians, LONG before President Obama’s “Red Line.” LONG before the media confirmed that chemical weapons were even being used.
  • Meeting with a newspaper editor and others in Benghazi (after the US Ambassador had been killed) who told me about the secret weapons program going on in Libya to provide weapons and ammunition to the Free Syrian Army/Rebels in Syria – God alone knows whose hands those weapons actually ended up in. The US wanted a “zero footprint” left in Syria – I wonder how history will judge how we looked the other way while so many have been slaughtered…
  • But one of my most memorable conversations was with Father Douglas Bazi, a priest in Irbil, Iraq who had done great work to help the Christian refugees who had been expelled from Mosul after ISIS took the city in 2014. He told me that eventually, as Christians continued to be killed and displaced in the Middle East, that all that would be left would be the forces of Syria’s Assad, ISIS and even wor866e4fa8c514a2621c425c155b402529.jpgse – the Shiite Militias of Iran. (Which we are seeing come true in Aleppo as Iranian forces are playing a major role in Syria now.) Father Douglas went on to say, Once those who have been sources of light are gone, there will be nothing left but darkness. So much darkness that no one will be able to recognize the other.” 
Darkness. It signifies the end of something, whether you’re speaking about the end of a day, the end of a life, or the end of a way of life. As we close out 2016, I continue to see some light – some pinholes of hope and opportunity. Moreover, I continue to feel passionately about seeing the world, taking young leaders to the world to help them understand it and I still feel committed to bringing truth and hope to a world that may have dimmed a bit, but has plenty of light left – enough light to see our responsibility to a world in need. John Muir’s quote takes on new and deeper meaning, “The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” 

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