When I left graduate school in 2006 I knew everything. I was smarter than everyone else. I was more knowledgeable regarding global cultures and politics. Most importantly, thanks to an education from an elite, Northeast liberal university, I devalued the role of God. Leaving graduate school, I knew that God had no role in professional matters.
God was an afterthought. He was someone to whom I may pray before my airplane took off to a new foreign adventure. He was not someone to discuss, especially with fellow educated colleagues and foreign counterparts.
Then, in November 2006, I traveled to Kyrgyzstan.
I was in Kyrgyzstan delivering medical aid to remote sections of the country. Our NGO colleagues had finished for the day and it was time for dinner. One of our guides chose a spot. We were in the middle of the Tian Shan mountain range, probably 50-75 miles south of the capital of Bishkek. We just finished a meal over an open fire comprised of grilled sheep, fresh herbs, and kumis with some of our Kyrgyz and Russian colleagues. The area was surrounded by wandering sheep, shepherds, and light snow.
In the middle of the night, our host pulled off to the side of the road, turned off the lights, and told us to lay on top of the truck hoods. In that cold November evening with the lights off in the heart of Central Asia, the stars were simply amazing. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the light of the stars became ever more brilliant and personal.
You could see every light like nothing I had ever witnessed before – not in Texas, upstate New York, Alaska, or elsewhere. The stars were simply amazing. I laid there gazing upon them through the occasional steam of my exhale hitting the cold mountain air. At that time, we were disrupted by the echoing sound of hoof prints as a few Kyrgyz shepherds came by on horseback.
They were warmly dressed in very colorful, traditional garb. The Kyrgyz are a tribe of Turkic speaking peoples, one of ninety-two tribes that are most similar to the American Sioux of the 19th Century. Some believe they are the descendants of the tribes that once crossed into the Americas and settled in the American plains many millennia ago. They are tall and slender, with predominantly Asian but occasionally Russian features, such as blue eyes. These unique physical features are the genetic byproduct of years of intermarriage with their Russian neighbors to the North.
The Kyrgyz have a fascinating culture that blends Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Buddhism, as evidenced in the Epic of Manas and the Manaschi. They are the last truly nomadic horsemen of the Eurasian Steppe. Looking at them is much like looking into a time machine going back at least a thousand years.
As they trotted by, one of our hosts explained that these were the last nomads. These, he explained, were the last tribesmen. Since time immemorial, these horsemen have used the stars above to guide them. They still do.
Looking upon the depth of those stars, I commented, “Do you think they know that each star is the center of a solar system with planets revolving around them?”
The host responded, “Whether they know or not is irrelevant. They do not care to know. All they know is that God gave them those stars to guide them to food, water, home, and love. Who has traveled to those stars to see these planets? No one. But these gifts from God travel to them every day and bring them home.”
Confident in my intellectual prowess, I further asked, “What if there was no God? What if this was caused by a big explosion?”
There was silence for about five minutes and then he responded, “I lived in the Soviet Union and we were told there was no God and things were bad. Now I live in Kyrgyzstan and I am free to worship God and I am happy. I do not know if there is a God, but I know what life is like without God, and it is not good. I prefer God in my life.”
After some agreement among our hosts, he continued, “The Russians, the Mongols, and the Chinese have come in and out of here. They have conquered this or that. They plant a flag and say, Kyrgyzstan is mine and we go about our way. Eventually, they leave, but the stars always stay. Well before we knew about Communism or Democracy, we knew the stars. Those stars have guided us forever. Those stars have always brought us back to the warmth of our families. Well before my people knew about Islam or Christianity, they saw the stars and they knew something bigger than them was out there… somewhere. That something is ‘God’ and one of His gifts to us is the stars. God always brings us home. That is why He gave us the stars.”
I laid there in silence pondering a response but none was forthcoming. All of my learning never prepared me for the simple depth of faith. His answer tossed everything I knew to the side.
How often have you looked up at the stars and thought they were pretty, but nothing more? For those people, the stars are everything. They are yet one of God’s many gifts. How simple is that trust in God that the stars still guide people to the love of a family in an era of advanced technology?
There I was, educated and better than everyone, knowing how small I was in my lack of love and faith. I chased title and wealth. Theirs was a yearning for a warm fire and an embrace in the cold Eurasian winter. How simple is that love for something we take for granted all the time? I was in awe of how beautiful their faith was in God. He would bring them home – as He always did.
At that moment, gazing upon the depth of black space and stars, I knew something so much bigger than me was out there: God. There was no way that such an incredibly beautiful mosaic of lights and darkness was created by accident. Just as the Kyrgyz around me had known for centuries, it was no coincidence that the stars always brought them home.
I had been so wrong about everything I “knew.”
Then I thought about it some more.
Knowing that He would give this gift of guidance to a simple tribe… knowing that He would give this gift to the variety of peoples that have traversed the globe for centuries before you or I were born… is it not therefore plausible that God, in His love for us, would likewise manifest Himself in human form to suffer our experiences and understand us, His creation. That manifestation came in the form of Jesus Christ. Through that manifestation, He has offered a different guide, one that leads through eternal salvation to a home. One that leads to a place better than where we are now. In Heaven we find a place built upon warmth and love, if we embrace Him.
My God, the same one that placed the millions of stars in the sky to guide nomadic tribes to their families is the same God that would give Himself, in the form of Christ, to guide us home to His love.
We just need to place our trust in Him the same way those tribes place their trust in the stars.
He will bring us home.