Our early "Christmas" with pastors
The last regular pastor's meeting was also our last meeting before Christmas. Phyllis Hankins has been teaching English classes to the pastors weekly, and as it was an end of the semester, she handed out simple prizes (mostly pencils, rulers, some crayons in little baggies), for those who had the best attendance, the top three scores, and the most improved. The most improved was Mama Helena, an older evangelist who is pastoring a church, who has not had the opportunity for education before in her life. She has learned to hold a pencil and to write and to speak a bit. She said now she is proud to know the letters and can even say the letter "U". I have often helped her with her homework, which she finds quite difficult. She is the one who gave her African shout for Phyllis and I when we said we were now the drivers in our families, due to the injuries of Steve and Boo. When she got her award, I jumped up and shouted as best as I could and gave her a big hug. She was extra tickled. All the pastors were SO pleased to receive these simple things; their eyes shone. One special moment was watching them examine the rubber bands. The two women ended up taking the ones of the brightest colors and using them as bracelets.
Phyllis also handed out, grab bag style, one article each of used clothes donated by visiting teams. It was also the time to give out the Christmas monetary donations to each pastor from Holston Conference. After all these gifts, and the obvious gratitude of the pastors, I stood and led a common expression of appreciation as we sometimes do in groups by all clapping together in a certain rhythmic clap. One pastor then stood and expressed thanks for these gifts, saying it is more than his mother, father, brother or sister can give him. The rest of the session turned into my Christmas; this became a spontaneous event, Sudanese style. Time was given for everyone who wanted to, to stand and say what was on their mind. One after one stood and expressed thanks. Several gave prayers. They are thankful for the English lessons they have had. Several mentioned (first was Mama Helena) that before they could not even speak much in front of others, and now they are speaking more, and some are able to speak to other people in English. They expressed appreciation to Holston Conference, for the water, and other things. They expressed that these gifts also tell then how much God also loves them. They appreciate the missionaries who have left home and family to "come suffer with us in Sudan". This was a real celebration. (we have had other sessions like this but with needs expressed). Steve shared that although we have left family and home to come here, we are humbled by the pastor's constant sacrifice by serving with little or no pay; that in itself is a gift to us. My "Christmas" this day was being in the midst of sharing, gifts (small but meaningful), thanks and celebration. God's love (and Christmas) can be shared in small but meaningful ways. Here, cultural reminders of the Christmas season are not all around us. The Churches don't celebrate advent. Christmas decorations and trappings feel out of place in the heat and tropics, as I am from a northern climate. Christmas presents even feel out of place. But small reminders of the grand generosity and love of God do seem very appropriate, and this is what I will remember as I find ways to celebrate this year.