“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:5)

The Light that existed before light was created shines today. As nature grows and flourishes under natural sunlight, and we see the beautiful flowers and trees all around; and the fruit and vegetables that we feed on, life in a sense is the response of the light and the warmth of the sun. It is a reflection of the character and nature of God. “In Him was life, and that light was the light of men” (V.4). The light that was the light of men shines in our hearts, because God the Creator of the physical world, speaks the new creation into being—“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”

In the story below, about 38 Jews, we are going to read about darkness and light, but our “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). When darkness comes, no matter in what shape or form, He is there with us and He never leaves us. I remember when my father died, and in the quietness and loneliness of the moment, my mother opened the Bible and read that God would be a husband to her. It was a word in season, and treasured by my mother. His light shines in the darkness.

Putin’s Russia has raised the stakes in world tension by his annexation of Crimea. Tensions in Ukraine have reached new heights as 50,000 Russian troops are being massed near the Ukraine border and within Crimea. There is fear concerning Putin’s motives, and because of the uncertainty, those fears are spreading out into the rest of Europe and the USA as they look for solutions to this new danger. When we feel threated we sometimes question, where is God in all of this?

There is an enormous gypsum cave system in Ukraine seventy-seven miles long. It is known by the locals as the ‘Priest’s Grotto.’ In the garden and grotto of Gethsemane, there is an ancient olive grove which has been identified as the place where Jesus went to pray the night before he was crucified, and the cave where his disciples are believed to have slept. According to Christian tradition, the Church of the Pater Noster, which is located on the Mount of Olives, was built over the cave where Jesus taught his disciples the “Our Father” (Pater Noster) prayer. Here in this Ukrainian hideout during the Nazi occupation in 1942–1944, towards the end of the Second World War, thirty-eight Jews took refuge. They went into hiding from the Nazis, managing to evade them for 344 days, and were finally liberated by Soviet troops. These people would have almost certainly not survived, had they not sought shelter in these caves, since 95 per-cent of the Jews in Ukraine were exterminated. Psalm 32:7 says, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” And, “You are my hiding place and my shield.” (Psalm 119:114)

Some of the local Ukrainians helped the Jews by selling them food, but others came close to bringing down their destruction, at one point even attempting an armed assault against the Jewish men who were trying to haul sacks of grain into the entrance of the cave in the middle of the night.

The Jews survived their ordeal because the cave was sourced with clean water and had separate chambers for cooking and smoke ventilation. A survivor named Shulim Stermer said, “When we were inside we felt some security, because we knew it would be very hard for Germans or police to come down there, one at a time, feet first.” (You can obtain the book “The Secret of Priest's Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story”, By Peter Lane Taylor; Christos Nicola, from Amazon or Barnes & Noble)

During their year-long stay their health remained comparatively good with nobody becoming seriously ill. They slept within a closed gallery which helped them keep hyperthermia at bay. They slept on elevated, blanket covered beds, from fifteen to twenty hours a day. Schlomo Stermer said, “We adjusted and we slept a lot. If you sleep you’re not hungry.”

The fugitives in the cave could not afford to illuminate the darkness, but had to conserve candles and fuel. This meant that they only lit candles for a few minutes, several times a day, in order to prepare meals; and all other times were spent in complete and total darkness. The journey from the darkness above ground to the darkness below ground was not an easy one. “The darkness, you know, that first day I would say it was the lowest point of my life,” Shlomo, recalled. “There was no place else to go. That was our last stop and it was very depressing.”

“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19)

Another survivor was Pepkala Blitzer. Pepkala was a four-year-old girl when she and her family took shelter in the ‘Priests Grotto’ hiding from the Nazis. In later years she recalled how she had completely forgotten about the sun or daylight. It was in early April 1944, when one of the Jewish men found a bottle lying on the floor near the entrance to the cave. Inside the bottle was a message from a friendly Ukrainian farmer, which read: “The Germans have already gone.” A few days later, all thirty-eight Jews finally left their place of refuge. Standing in the bright sunshine, Pepkala asked her mother to put out the bright candle, because it hurt her eyes too much. She was referring to the sun, which she could not remember having seen.

“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8)

So many verses of Scripture leap to mind when relating this story of survival in the midst of great danger. Jesus elevates us to heavenly places where we are seated in Christ. We are hid in Him and have security and peace with God through the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. How marvellous, how wonderful, that my Saviour died for me! How marvellous! How wonderful! Is my Saviour’s love for me!

I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus, the Nazarene,
and wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.
How marvellous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be:
How marvellous! How wonderful!
Is my Saviour's love for me!

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:22)

Take a few moments to reflect on God’s love for you. Allow God’s Sprit to speak into your heart and make a note of the verses of Scripture He ministers to you in this moment of intimacy with Him.

Blessings and shalom,
Malcolm

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