Christmas Riches, Almost Missed…
This year we had every excuse in the book not to do it.
We had tons of family coming into town for the holidays.
We already would have a full house.
I’m pregnant (and tired!) with baby #5.
We have four little rascals running around.
We already have one international student living with us.
Money’s tight, more mouths to feed might be an issue.
I even blogged to promote the ministry.
Surely, it just wouldn’t work this year. “I’ll just recruit others to do it.” I thought.
But as we took our gaze OFF of our own little world’s circumstances, and looked at the call of our Savior to invite the stranger in (Matt. 25:35), we knew we were called to, once again, walk that line of faith. To put ourselves in a a place to be a watchman on the walls.
OK, Lord, if we’re going to do this, you have got to give me the energy.
I called up the area coordinator and told him we were willing to host up to two students (our other housemate, a seminary student would be out of town for the holidays and said we could us his room). “Oh, good, he immediately said, I’ve got two Saudi Arabian young men who I’ve been trying to find a place for!”
OK, Lord. Here we go.
But oh, what joy, what riches, the Lord was trying to bless us with through this call to obedience!
So on Dec. 20th, Danny drove to the airport and picked up “James”*. He came back and joined our family chaos of having a gingerbread making contest amongst Danny’s siblings and their kids.
That evening while eating dinner, we tried to explain to “James” that we would be going to a prayer meeting that night because Danny is a pastor of a church.
“Church? Pastor? I don’t know what those are. We do not have those in my country.” he said.
We had a great discussion trying to explain to him what a pastor is, what a church is, and what we believe as Christians. The only thing he said he knew about Christians is that they “have to get wet.” (baptism)
Prayer meeting went well, and he seemed so intrigued by all we did and studied. A whole new world was opening up to him.
Then, that night, quiet “John”* arrived, and as I observed his trendy clothes and his cornrowed hair, I felt like we were hosting a Newark youth again.
Thursday and Friday they were off doing touristy things with the whole group, but in the evenings we enjoyed talking with them and playing board games with them and Danny’s siblings. Saturday they attended the “Christmas conference” portion of their trip and came home, each with a Bible in hand, excited to practice their English by reading it. “Oh, Lord, make it come alive to them.” my heart throbbed.
I felt guilty feeding them quickly and ushering them out the door again to another “Church thing”, attending a Christmas Eve candlelight service at Sara and Eric’s church, but they seemed up for anything. We tried to explain to them that many different churches believe the same thing, but worship in different ways, and the one that they would be attending this night would be a more formal church. It was encouraging to watch them try to sing along in the hymnbook our classic Christmas carols, triumphing the coming of Christ.
Since, actual Christmas day, we would be at our Korean church all day, we decided to surprise the kids after the Christmas Eve service with all the presents and stockings set out. I dashed home with my sister-in-law and Danny went with the kids and “James” and “John” to McDonald’s for $1 ice cream cones. I quickly got everything set up and awaited their arrival.
Our kids (AND James and John) were surprised and ecstatic when they walked in with everything set up. We took our traditional stair photo, sang “Joy to the World”, and started the stocking openings. James and John were so surprised when I showed them where their stockings were. And then as we each took turns opening presents, they were thrilled when they had different things to opened. (One of which was a Jesus Film, in Arabic). Christmas is so often enjoyed by parents as they watch the wonder and excitement of the children, and this year we had two extra “kids” who were equally filled with surprise, excitement, and wonder. It was simply so much fun. (It was also so fun to see bright smiles spread across John’s quiet, reserved face, as he opened his own presents and watched our kids be thrilled over theirs)
James kept saying, “This is my BEST Christmas. This is my first Christmas and it will always be my best Christmas in my memory.”
I couldn’t help but pray, that his Christmases will get even better, not because of gifts to open, and children squealing in excitement, but because he has opened the best Gift of all, his Savior and Sustainer of his life.
A little past midnight, after the kids had finally settled down and everyone was in bed, Danny went down to check on the guys and say goodnight. John was curled up on his bed watching something on his computer. It was the Jesus film we had given him.
Lord, work through it, Danny prayed.
The next morning was an early morning of ushering children and James and John out the door again for more church services. I almost felt bad for them…they didn’t know what they were getting into when they stayed with us. But they seemed eager to observe and listen to their new friend, Danny, preach of the prophecies of Christ and their fulfillment in Christmas. Then we had Sunday School, and John was missing. I found him wandering around the property, my heart sank. “We have probably offended him…doing so much “Christian” stuff.” I thought. I asked him if he would like to join us or if he was too tired. (we had so many late nights that week!) He said “No, I want to come, I didn’t know where you were.” “Oh,” I sighed with relief.
Boy, was I glad he came. Danny told us to look up Matthew 6 and we just read two verses and then watched Tim Keller’s “Gospel in Life” video about work. John’s eyes did not leave the page after we read those verses. I kept glancing at him as he read and read. The VERY FIRST time he had ever read the Bible for himself.
The guys went home with relatives, because we had to stick around for more responsibilities (have I mentioned that Korean’s are hard-core and take their Sabbath day very seriously…all day events…we, flimsy Americans with our “express services” have a thing or two to learn from them, anyways…”
When we got home around 5pm we found that James had taken a much needed nap, but John had finished watching the rest of the Jesus film.
He had a ton of questions at Christmas dinner. He had many questions that he couldn’t quite articulate so we used James(whose English was better) and our trusty Google Translate to be able to address his questions. One of the first ones was, “That book that we read at church today. Can I get one of them? I would like to read it more.”
“That book” just happened to be the Holy Inspired Word of God. “That book” happened to have words of truth, and hope and salvation, that in all of John’s 19 years of life, he had never even known existed.
And here’s the cool part. Earlier that week I was researching sharing Christ with Muslims and stumbled upon a ministry website that would send an Arabic Bible for free. I asked if I could get it before Christmas, and they said there was probably no chance it would arrive in time. Christmas Eve it arrived. When Danny and I opened it (and some Arabic literature/tracts), we asked Jesus who needed it the most, but we just set it aside to pray about it more.
Here was our answer.
After Danny fetched the Bible we talked for about an hour answering questions like “Who killed Jesus?” “Why did they kill him?” “Did he really come back to life?” “Can God live in my spirit too?”. James, wasn’t asking as many questions, but was still eager to be involved in the conversation, so I asked him what different things said on the tracts (they were in Arabic and I couldn’t read them). Here he was explaining God’s word to me. I commended him on how well he translated it, and he said “Maybe I could be a pastor too one day!” Oh, Lord, may he!!!
The whole experience, and the curiosity and hunger to learn was all so thrilling and exciting to be a part of, I couldn’t imagine if we had tried to “protect” our family time by not hosting these two great guys. What riches we would have been missed out on. What amazing privileges would have been passed up. What new friendships would never have formed.
Our kids cried on Wednesday morning when the guys left, and they still talk about missing James and John.
And we daily cry out to God, that his Spirit of truth, will guide them into all truth. (John 16:13)
For, simply being very feebly-available, has led to deep friendship and love for our Saudi Arabian guests, and we long for them to know not only the surface riches of Christmas, but the real riches of Christmas in Christ,
Christmas riches, almost missed by us,
embraced by them.
Pictures of our guests have been removed for their privacy and protection.
*real names not used because of their Muslim faith which prohibits them from celebrating Christmas, investigating Christianity, and owning and reading a Bible. We don’t want to put our new friends at risk in any way.