A LETTER FROM ZAMBIA: ECLIPSING THE SUN. With all the hysteria surrounding the recent eclipse... let
These letters were written between 1999 and 2003 to my beloved family as an informative and entertaining discourse of life in Zambia. I am going to reprint this series of letters over the next couple of weeks on my blog at the request of many who have read them in times past. I hope you enjoy them and capture the spirit in which they were written originally. Please feel free to leave a comment. I dedicate this reprint to my family… I love you all.
~ Pastor Tom Cunningham
June 22, 2001
Some very exciting events of astronomical proportions (literally) have happened around here lately. The first total solar eclipse of the millennium created quite a spectacle. As you have heard, the pathway of the esteemed shadow of the eclipse runs right through Zambia, causing Africa to truly live up to its name as the “dark continent’. 22,000 tourists, hippies, drug addicts, sun worshipers, apocalyptic doomsayers, eclipse chasers and even scientists flocked into the country to see this inconceivable event. Not to be outdone by some 1960’s throwbacks, I also made plans to travel to Lusaka for this great event so that I too could be in the center of this mysterious shadow. If you can’t tell already, my expectations were low, my sarcasm high; however a road trip, none-the-less was a road trip. Not to be a total loafer, I aligned (pun intended) my trip to the great eclipse in Lusaka with preaching a revival in Mazabuka. That way, I could be seen historically as doing something useful for the Kingdom of God while taking the opportunity to sneak away to the eclipse center without appearing like a total eclipse-head.
Pastor Kevin Hannston, an American Pastor in Mazabuka, his wife Joan and his family joined ours and off we went to Pastor Bowman’s house in Lusaka to catch the eclipse. Eclipse glasses in hand (never leave home without your ‘safety tested for viewing direct sunlight’ glasses) we were ready for a fun-filled afternoon of barbecue and sun watching. As the moon slowly made its way into the path of the sun, the mood was fraught with anticipation, but I personally found a colony of ants carrying a large half-eaten garden cockroach into the jaws of its darkened habitat far more exciting.
Then something startling happened. As the moon made its way to an almost 100% eclipse of the sun, a strange, eerie, aura blanketed over us. I looked at the grass and the trees and although it was daylight and you could see very well, there was sunlight but no glare; an unnatural shadowy tint—as if the whole world was being viewed through sunglasses. An excited chatter rumbled through the families and a peculiar chill fell over us. I found myself cuddling my shoulders to my body and looking around suspiciously as the temperature dropped subtly. It all happened so fast; the gloom rang heavier as the moon raced to the suns corona, birds, not certain what time it was or what was happening dove to the ground and then back to the trees, frantically circling the area in an atmosphere of neither day nor night. Hippos, that had been basking in the sun just moments before, hoisted their mass off the grass and frantically raced to the river, positive that night had fallen on them and they were to be in the water for their evening feeding. The moon reached the suns perfect pathway and the halo of light shown brightly, viewable without the glasses. In 5 seconds the earth’s remaining daylight fled away as stars became visible and Zambia, caught unawares, plunged into a surreal darkness. The temperature perceptibly lowered another 10 degrees. The families around us became silent for an instant, the awesomeness of the moment weighing our hearts and stifling our reason. I was reminded of ancient civilizations, which at this instant in history had cried out to their religious leaders for deliverance and salvation from the angry gods that had blocked out the sun. How the witch doctors and headmen had seized the moment, and at a heavy price, prayed the sun back to the sky when waiting and watching would have been equally as effectual. In a spark of life as if the sun was protesting the overcrowding moon, a diamond shaft of brilliant light flashed through a moon’s crater at the lower left and forced a stubborn glare back into the darkness. The diamond radiated fiercely for a few seconds, and then gave way to an even brighter burst as the moon opened a greater pathway on its way past. Those few seconds brought the pseudo-dark aura back and forced the eclipse glasses back on our faces to protect our eyes from the awesome power of the sun’s brilliance.
It was over as fast as it started, but was an awe-inspiring if not startling experience. The real benefit going to the Hippos, who got to eat twice that day. Never in my life have I seen such an abnormal-looking natural event in nature. When I realize that things as certain as the sun’s daily appearance are taken for granted when they are clearly an act of God gives me a sense of thanksgiving.
Scripture makes this same statement unmistakably in Romans 1:18-22…
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made (created), so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…” ~Romans 1:18-22