A Christmas Letter (2016)

Greetings! Please excuse the unanticipated silence on this blog. While an update of what has been happening the last few months might seem the most logical way to re-open communication, I will save that for later this week.

Since Advent, as a season of anticipation and preparation, can also lead us into times of reflection and reminiscing, here is a letter written in 2016, but never mailed or shared until tonight. 

abia

It is 11 PM in the jungle.  Some of the villagers have already gone to bed.  Those who remain here in the meeting-house sit in chairs or on benches, everyone waiting for someone else to lead out in a dance, but all of us too tired to actually do so.  As we sit here, listening to the loud music, swatting bugs, waiting for midnight, drinking coffee to stay awake, and wondering if there will be more dancing, my mind skips across a couple thousand miles to a much more familiar Christmas scene.

Squeezing my eyes shut and sitting on my hands, I am instantly transported to Bethel Church of the Nazarene, imagining myself there with all of you tonight, just a few hours ago.  It is easy to picture the candles in their little wooden holders on the walls, the placement of the wreaths and poinsettias, the familiar Nativity set and Christmas tree.  I can imagine Zach leading the traditional carols and playing guitar, and hear Pastor’s voice talking about who Jesus is to the Architect, the Painter, the Doctor, the Teacher, the Composer, the Florist.  And then I see the candle.  You remember the one. You saw it this evening. That candle which persists, every single Christmas Eve, in remaining unlit.

One small light.  No one will miss it.  Except they will. One small light.  It won’t make a difference.  But does it make a difference?  It does.  Everyone notices that candle more than the others, because it is not shining.

And this year, I realize that I am one little light, missing from your midst, no longer shining with all of you into the darkness of Lewis County.  But I’m not that candle, standing in its normal place but neglecting to shine.  I am a candle that God called and sent to a different dark place, a village in the Amazon rainforest.

This is not just my calling, however; it is our calling. I am a light that you sent here, in partnership with God. Even though some of you knew you would really miss me, and that even my little light could have made a difference shining with the rest of you in Lewis County, you chose to walk in obedience to God, and step out in faith with me. Although it was hard to say goodbye, you sent me out from among you, through the doors that God opened, to the place and the people He put on my heart initially, and then on all of our hearts.

We are a family, a community, a body.  Every time a member leaves, whether temporarily or permanently, it makes a difference and leaves a gap, an empty space in the candle stand. At least a couple dozen names come effortlessly to mind, of those who have left our church and continue to be missed, both for who they are and for the ways they served as part of the body of Christ.

In my case, my leaving necessitated “quitting” Good News Club ministry, the ladies’ prayer group, piano playing, Christmas drama planning, VBS, caroling.  There’s one less person to vacuum and put away chairs after a fellowship meal, or carry dishes up to the pavilion.  Many of you get one less hug every single Sunday.

And I was obviously not indispensable, because the ministry of a church is not dependent on any one person, no matter how involved they might be.  Jesus is the Head of the Church, and He is faithful.  He fills needs and provides other people to serve.  Many of you stepped in to fill the small gaps my departure caused.  And if a thread or two was left hanging, they weren’t essential threads, as all of you continue to reach out, serve and make a difference.  While I was not in any way necessary to your team, I was part of it, so, as happens every time someone leaves, the team is not exactly the same as it used to be.

Your sending has been financial as well.  The money you gave in several generous offerings, and that some of you individually give each month, has been God’s tangible, physical provision to build my house and keep me here, and pay for all the needs this past year.  I know money is often tight and it’s hard to pay the bills and care for families, yet you selflessly set aside hard-earned income, giving to Jesus by giving to me and our village friends. 

And you know what?  This Christmas, I hope you don’t miss me too much, because hopefully you are mostly thinking about Jesus, the first and best Christmas gift, sent to all of us. I pray that you are rejoicing in His birth, and longing for His return. Hopefully you are busy sharing Jesus’ love and hope with those in Lewis County who still don’t know Him. Hopefully you are focusing on special times and memories and treasuring the people who you are with this year.  But, admitting to some Christmas homesickness here, I do hope that just once or twice during the Advent season, you have noticed my absence, and missed me just a little bit.

Because here in the jungle, even though I am loving this Christmas and feeling so privileged and blessed to spend it with these new friends, I miss all of you like crazy.

Christmas and Advent will never be the same without you. For me, the important externals of Christmas are not the caroling and traditions and liturgy and special foods and decorations, as wonderful as all of those are.  The important externals of Christmas are family, and shared experiences worshipping and celebrating and remembering Jesus.  And you are my family.

First and foremost, of course, Christmas is about Jesus. But it is also about celebrating Jesus with family, reaching out to others as a family, and making special memories with family.  And ever since I was 6 years old, that family has been you.

But the sadness of missing all of you and being faraway at Christmastime is easier to endure remembering that the celebration in Heaven someday will be bigger and better than any Christmas celebration in any culture.  And how exciting to realize that, by God’s grace, we pray and believe that our obedience will result in more brothers and sisters joining us as part of His family, as part of the kingdom, as part of the universal church.  And everyone would surely agree that this makes a few tears and a little homesickness all worth it, for the glory of the One whose birth we celebrate, who is worthy of all the praises we could sing and any gift we could ever bring.

So it would seem that I am a gift this year.  A great big Christmas present without a gift bag or wrapping paper.  There have been many times I feel like God could have picked someone better, sent a better present to these precious people.  Why did He send me?  There are certainly missionaries out there who are more intelligent, more talented, more resistant to bugs and bacteria, more determined and faithful.  But the fact remains, that He uses weak and unlikely vessels to accomplish His purposes. We are the ones that God chose to give to these people, for His own reasons and plans. We are the gift.

Thank you for sending me. I love you. 

And just so you know, I am already hoping to spend Christmas 2019 right there in Lewis County with all of you – hanging up the greens, singing Christmas carols, playing piano if needed, going to the party and Advent activities, enjoying lots of snow, and most of all delighting in special moments with all of you, celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Saviour.

So, please, keep up those traditions, and don’t go anywhere!

(Unless God sends you to some other place where the light of Jesus still hasn’t shined or where the Bible has not yet been translated or where there is a need He calls you to meet. In that case, you should definitely go).

Merry Christmas!

Luke 1:76-79 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.