The Christmas season is significant for millions of people around the world, as Christians it is the season in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a time to focus on others as we celebrate the, life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
In December of 1983 I was serving as a full time Christian missionary in the Bang Khen district of Bangkok Thailand. The opportunity to serve Jesus Christ full time was a remarkable opportunity, but it was my first Christmas away from home and family. I was homesick and even though I was living with five other missionaries, was lonely for home, family, and familiar surroundings. As Christmas approached and my feelings of homesickness increased I begin to lose sight of why I had travelled thousands of mile from home and what my mission was.
My fellow missionaries and I decided that we needed to focus our efforts in service of other people to bring the spirit of Christmas into their lives. We settled on three activities that we felt would help the Thais better understand Jesus Christ and the true meaning of Christmas. I didn’t realize at the time, but this dedicated teaching would bring the Spirit of Christmas into my life more than at any other time.
The first of our projects was to direct a play at one of the local elementary schools. We wrote a script from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Luke’s poetic record of the birth of the Savior has always moved me. It powerfully depicts the birth of the Savior in a way that creates very vivid mental images. It is almost as if I can feel the throng pressing around each other in the overcrowded Bethlehem. I can sense Joseph’s frustration at not finding appropriate lodging for his pregnant wife. I can smell the stable, the scent of animals and the aroma of straw mixed together. What did the young couple think knowing that Mary would likely give birth to her son with only cattle attending? I can feel the shepherd’s wonder as the angelic messengers heralded the birth of the Son of God. Then finally as the shepherd’s came to worship the Lord, the quiet realization that must have begun to form in Mary’s mind as to who her son was.
At the school we cast Mary and Joseph, shepherds and angels. We collected clothes for costumes and made simple sets for our backdrops. None of the children were Christian so we spent more time teaching the Christmas story, than we did directing the play. On the day of the performance the rest of the students gathered in the auditorium and watched the performance. The performance was first-rate, the children played their roles well and I believe they learned more about the true meaning of Christmas.
The second of our activities was to visit an orphanage in Bangkok on Christmas Eve. I grew up in the Snake River Valley in south eastern Idaho and to that point in my life I had never even experienced anything but a white Christmas. December 24th 1983 was 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit with clear skies, and me in a Santa Suit. As the sun beat down sweat was pouring off of me, but the children loved it. They were laughing, smiling, mobbing me, and pulling stuffing out of my suit; I was skinny in those days. We sang Christmas carols, and I presented them with some simple gifts from my Santa bag. Our day with those children reminded me of the blessings I had of growing up surrounded by a family that loved me. What a great opportunity to bring in some love and light into the lives of those kids that had experienced so much heartache and darkness.
Our third activity was on Christmas day. We had a party for the families in our neighborhood. One of the other missionaries in our townhouse played Santa. We showed movies, had a piñata, played games and retold the Christmas story. My journal from that day recorded how much it meant for me to see the smiles on their faces.
The time spent planning and preparing activities for someone else helped to reinforce my faith of the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus Christ. As I taught the Christmas story my understanding of His doctrine, mission and great atoning sacrifice was revealed to me in a way that it had never been before. That Christmas will be one that I will never forget.