I hate to spring this on everyone on such short notice, but the Christmas Season is now upon us. While Christmas is a big deal here, even over-commercialized, it isn't quite the same as the US - yet. Maybe it just seems that way to us because everything is so different. I'll be honest, it makes it hard to feel like the holiday season when it is in the upper 90's every day. In fact, at the store the other day they had one of those seasonal displays up. On the left was all the traditional Christmas decorations, and next to them on the right was all the swimming pool gear. Just doesn't seem the same.
It is kind of funny to hear "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas", or "Let it Snow" over the loudspeakers a the local store. We tried to teach our kids Jingle Bells, but of course, it didn't make sense to anyone.
Obviously though, it isn't these things that make Christmas what it is. Christmas literally means "Celebration of Christ". While the celebration centers around His birth, for Christians the true celebration encompasses His entire life, death, and resurrection. He didn't just live as a good example for us to follow, He came as the payment for our debt of sin. God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
We celebrate Christmas with many traditions, customs, and rituals. One of those is the giving of gifts. Many say this originated with the Magi who brought the gold, frankincense, and mhyrr. Romans 6:23 tells us that Christmas gifts started with God. While we as humans earn death as a result of our sin, God offers us the free gift of eternal life "through Jesus Christ our Lord". At this Christmas season, I urge everyone to examine their life, and ask if they have received the gift, or if they are telling God "no thanks, I'll try this on my own".
At The Pines, Christmas is a time of true excitement. For the kids here, this is often the first time to have a celebration. Like all children, they are excited by the gifts they receive, many of them from generous people in the US. But again, like all children, we've learned that the kids here, regardless of how difficult their background was, can quickly become spoiled. While it is a joy to spoil them from time to time, we make an effort to teach them the true meaning of Christmas. This year, like last, the children had the opportunity to purchase gifts for the friends from their old neighborhoods. This is something that brings great joy to the beneficiaries, but it is amazing to see the fun and excitement our kids have using their own money to give to someone less fortunate.
This year, we had another event to help us all keep the meaning of Christmas in perspective. Down the road about half a mile is a housing complex in some old mining hostels. Within this complex, there are probably 75 units. We have attempted to reach out to the community around us, as the mission of The Pines isn't just to reach the kids, but to reach the community with and through our kids. Someday, we hope to see those who have come through The Pines showing the love of Jesus to Welkom and beyond.
In keeping with some Christmas traditions, we made gifts to hand out - a parcel of various food items: sugar, tea, bubble gum, chips, and rice packets. Included with this packet was a pamphlet in Sesotho that clearly tells the good news of eternal life in Jesus. We divided the older kids into 4 groups, with my parents and brothers to help. Whisper effect: Don't tell my family, but I actually sent the kids along to supervise them and make sure they were safe. We took 1 packet to each house, and in addition, we would give a stuffed animal to every child that lived in the house.
Before we went, we held a few training sessions so everyone would know how to briefly explain what we were doing, and be able to answer any questions the people would have. Many of our kids took the opportunity to learn The Romans Road, several verses in Romans that clearly explain how to get to Heaven (Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 10:9-10, & Romans 10:13).
Going into it, I thought the two kids with me would want me to do most of the talking. Boy, was I ever wrong. Dieketseng and Pheello were with me and they wanted to take turns giving the packets to the families and explaining why we were there. While I don't speak Sesotho, I've learned enough to pick up most of what they were saying. It usually went something like this: "Christmas is coming up this week and we wanted to give you a gift to help celebrate. Christmas is when we remember that God gave Jesus to come die for our sins. If you want to go to Heaven, you have to ask for forgiveness of your sins and trust that Jesus is the only way to get to Heaven. Here in this packet is a book that will tell you all about it." Of course, this isn't a word for word translation, but this was pretty much the general idea of what they said at each house. All this with very minimal training.
American culture demands certain measures of etiquette that are not part of other cultures. People here are very straighforward, and don't take no for an answer. Our kids were very persistent. If no one answered the knock at the door, they peeked in the windows. At this house, Dieketseng saw that someone was home but not answering the door, so she promptly went around back to knock on the windows. She told me that everyone needs to hear about Jesus, whether they think they need to or not.
My dad went with one of our girls, Refiloe. She is a very intelligent young lady, and puts many theologians to shame with her study habits and prayers. My dad also thought that he would have to do most of the talking, so at the first house he kind of took charge. On their way to the second house, Refiloe politely told him to let her handle it. Apparently she was pretty sure she could do a better job communicating. I'm pretty sure she was right. Not to knock my father, but this girl knows how to tell people about Jesus, and language was no barrier for her.
Afterward, to celebrate the opportunity to share God's Word, we all went out for ice cream. What a joy to see the growth in our children and the love they have for those in need. How convicting to know their desire to see others know the joy and peace found in Jesus.