Our Christmas traditions began early in the month. Actually, it began as soon as our Thanksgiving guests went back to their own homes. While we washed the mounds of dishes, we belted out Christmas carols, and that night, we watched a Christmas movie. When December rolled around, we began the Jacksons’ advent traditions. Each morning and evening we read a portion of Scripture to track the stories of all the important events leading up to the birth of Jesus.
In the midst of all of this preparation, the Jacksons and I heard that this year, Operation Christmas Child had decided to bring shoeboxes of gifts to our Cameroonian province! In fact, they were taking the gifts to the handicapped kids at the school where we do Bible Club! Not only that, but they were going to videotape the process to make into a promotional video for next Christmas!
It was so wonderful to see the kids’ eyes widen, mouths open, and hands clap with glee at all the gifts they pulled out from their shoeboxes.
I got to color with a deaf girl in her new coloring book, teach a boy in a wheelchair how to play his recorder, blow up balloons for a child with down-syndrome, and toss a ball back and forth with a girl who has no arms! She would pick up the ball with her toes and fling it up into the air! I created a photo album you can see here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2082076&id=68602443&l=1ae034535bIt was such a delight to see the generosity of people around the world put into action. Children who are normally ignored or even left by the river to die were able to experience some of the joy of Christmas through the love of people on the other side of the world.
I got to celebrate Christmas with many Cameroonian children this year. After the excitement of Operation Christmas Child died down, the Jacksons and I hosted a Christmas party for our neighborhood Bible Club kids. It was a hilarious chaos. About 100 kids crammed into our living room for 3 ½ hours. During the program, some were singing Christmas carols, some were talking to each other, and others were shoving each other around.
We were able to maintain some kind of order, but with that many kids, nothing can go exactly to plan. There was almost a constant flow of kids arriving, a never-ending bathroom line, and Cameroonian babies don’t wear diapers, so we had to clean up a few accidents throughout the party. We also led the kids in a Christmas Bingo game, and passed out small gifts for each child. But my favorite part was when we had the kids act out a Christmas pageant.
I don’t think any pageant ever turned out quite like this one did. I wrote up a transcript of exactly what this ended up looking like, with sheep stealing baby Jesus, Mary asking “How can I be a virgin?” and more. I just posted that transcript as a Note on my Facebook page, but I can't figure out how to post a link of it for those who don't have Facebook.
The festivities continued as we hosted a Christmas Eve party for about 30 people, and opened stockings Christmas morning. The stocking-opening was quite the memorable event, as we had Fadi’s younger siblings staying with us, and it was their first time getting Christmas stockings.One of the girls even took everything out of her stocking, admired it all, then put it all back in. When Karen asked her what she was doing, she said, “I want to open it again!” Another girl, who doesn’t speak more than a few words of English, was able to use one of her new words when she exclaimed in a loud voice and a broad smile, “Bubbles!” when she pulled that gift out of her stocking. The girls also really enjoyed their sunglasses and play cell phones. :)
The excitement of the Christmas Eve party, the fun of watching Fadi’s younger brothers and sisters enjoying Christmas morning, and the dry, hot weather was helpful in keeping my mind off of how much I missed being home this Christmas. But there were a couple times when I missed my family and friends to the point of tears.
My mood quickly picked up when, two days after Christmas, we piled a week’s worth of camping gear and food in two trucks and headed for the beach! It was such a refreshing week, full of lounging on the beach, exploring the jungle, stalking monkeys, building a hut, sleeping under the stars, and playing a midnight game of Red Rover in the ocean to welcome in the new year! I created a photo album here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2083843&id=68602443&l=264b9d44a1
It was also a good time of processing the past few months, thinking about what God had been teaching me, and making goals for the next semester. It is evident that God has really been building up my endurance and my ability to give and receive grace as I get used to staying in one place for 10 months. I’m also learning how to manage my time so I can be effective in ministry and teaching and not get burned out. At the same time, God is teaching me to surrender to Him on a deeper level and to focus more on people than efficiency. Praise God for his never-ending grace through my never-ending growth process!
After a very eventful Christmas and New Year’s season, the Jacksons and I are mostly back on a routine. The girls and I have renewed energy for this next school semester, and I’m reorganizing my weekly commitments so it’s not as overwhelming as it got by the end of last semester. Unfortunately, as we get settled back into a routine, we are also fighting off some illnesses. A flu bug and a cold have been traveling through our house for the past couple weeks. We have a theory that the dry season is mostly to blame, because there is a lot of dust and pollution being blown about each day. Waiting for the rainy season to come back is a good reminder of how we should long for God like the dry land longs for rain. After experiencing an African dry season, I have a better idea of how deep that longing should be.
--After a great deal of rescheduling and doubting whether Operation Christmas Child was actually going to happen, it happened! With great success!
--I really enjoyed Christmas, even while missing home
--God refreshed my body and soul during this holiday, especially at the beach
--No one got malaria as a result of the feast we gave the beach mosquitoes
--God is actively at work in my heart, constantly challenging me to grow and giving me the strength to do it
--Health for everyone in our household
--Wisdom for how to re-prioritize my commitments so I can give my all and not burn out
--Wisdom for how to develop the girls’ skills and increase their knowledge in this second semester
--That I would stay on a schedule of having daily quiet times with God