This morning my alarm clock sounds different from normal. Instead of the beeping, I awake to a choir of tropical birds backed by clanging pots and a crowing rooster. The cries of a baby are the descant; the bass is sustained by a man’s deep voice singing along the path outside my window.
Sitting up in bed enveloped by a mosquito net, my soul smiles as it finally registers: I’m back in Congo.
Arriving late in the night and weary from the 42 hours en route, I must have been delusional, stumbling to bed in the darkness of a home without electricity.
Now in broad daylight using solar powered internet, I open my journal and share my heart.
Contemplating my return, I remember all the illness I suffered last time.
Is it worth it?
With increased danger due to Congo’s elections, I examine the risk.
Is it worth it?
Spending nearly equal time traveling as I will visiting, I wonder,
Is it even worth it?
But something in my gut told me to go.
So, 5 days in transit and a mere 7 days in Beni.
- When the Mamas welcome me with smiles and songs, praising God for bringing me back, I know its worth it.
- When I arrive at UCBC and see the look on students’ faces when they realize I have not forgotten about them, I know its worth it.
- When Bethany and Chelsie (volunteer staff) need assistance with English courses and I can help instruct, I know its worth it.
Anselme replacing guitar strings and receiving drumsticks for the band
- When the chapel band drummer is playing with literal sticks (as in, twigs from the forest) and I surprise him with several pairs of drum sticks, I know its worth it.
- When Anselme shows me the worship band’s guitar with only 5 fraying strings and I’m able to exchange him for a brand new set, I know its worth it.
And even if I accomplish very little by American standards, my presence is accomplishing more than I ever imagined it could.
In America, we presume to understand Christmas for what it truly is:
- We strive to focus on Christ. We attend church and have pageants which share the message of God’s love in sending His only Son.
- We strive to focus on family. We gather with relatives to play games or eat a feast.
- We strive to focus on giving. We lavish gifts on family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, postal workers, acquaintances.
Somehow, despite our best efforts, we have still missed the essence of Christmas. Perhaps America — in and of itself — is an obstacle to truly understanding Christmas.
So here’s a glimpse into my mind and the things which I’ve been pondering:
- How can we comprehend the degree to which God humbled himself when we live in the very luxury he forsook in lieu of a lowly birth? How can we understand what God gave up when He came to earth if we give not out of sacrifice, but only from our abundance?
- How can we seek the Incarnate if we are seeking the citadel of Self? Christmas in America is a “feel-good” holiday and thus, the sacred has become self-centered. (We spread the Spirit of the Season, stuff our bellies with rich and lavish foods, gather round the glow of a fire with friends, and sing carols of joy, snow, presents, and reindeer…all in an attempt to experience a heart-warming feeling.)
- How can we worship, giving Glory to God in the highest, if He doesn’t have preeminence as our greatest treasure…that in which we value the most, pour our greatest efforts into, have the deepest longing for? Have we altered our priorities in such a way that we worship Christmas shopping (or food preparation or family)?
I challenge you to contemplate such questions and re-evaluate your focus this next year.
May this retrospective be an encouragement to you. May it refresh your perspective about celebrating Christ.