As you might imagine, our preparations for Christmas here in Malawi have been much different than they would have been if we were in Pittsburgh.
I have to admit that it has been difficult to get into the Christmas spirit here. In church, where we are used to Advent wreaths and candles, Christmas hymns, and purple communion cloths, there is nothing in the CCAP churches like that. They do not do Advent here. We have really missed that.
I tried to buy a few Christmas decorations for the house, and it was slim pickings. I found a single string of small white lights for the girl’s room in one store and a garland of red wooden beads in another. You may find this hard to believe but only one store has any Christmas decorations or displays up here in Blantyre.
Now, this could be rather depressing, however, I went to a Christmas party this morning that really helped me put things in perspective. My Wednesday morning Bible Study combined with another women’s Bible Study for a Christmas celebration. The first thing that I noticed was that not one woman, besides me, had on a Christmas outfit. In the states everyone has a Christmas vest or sweater or something festive to wear to such occasions. Not in Malawi.
After munching on treats like mince pie and sweet potato fritters, we had devotions about Mary and how she felt not only at the birth of her son, but at his death and subsequent resurrection. Then we prayed. My friend Maggie said, “Lord, thank you for allowing us to be in Malawi, where there are not all the trappings of a commercial Christmas, and it is easier to concentrate on the true meaning of this special holiday.”
This group of women from all over the world (Malawi, Canada, Scotland, Korea, Finland, USA, South Africa, Germany, England) and from all different faith groups, (CCAP, Baptist, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican, PC(USA) etc.) came together to thank God for the opportunity to serve. I felt blessed to be among them. The feeling of God’s power and presence was incredibly strong.
After the prayers ended, we played games. After all, Christmas is a celebration! We answered a Bible Quiz on Christmas. (For instance, did you know that Joseph does not speak at all in any of the accounts of Christ’s birth? We decided that he was the strong, silent type.) Then we answered questions about Christmas legends. (Did you know that the legend of the candy cane was invented in Indiana?) It was a lot of fun. Then we engaged in what was termed a “sinful”gift exchange where you get to take gifts that you like from others. It was a riot.
Then I came home and there was a pile of Christmas cards and emails from people all over the place. Friends and family had remembered us, but so had long lost college friends, as well as perfect strangers, Bible Study and Prayer Groups from Pittsburgh churches. It was amazing. We are even using an Advent devotional each evening that someone was thoughtful enough to have mailed us. One church, Sampson’s Mills, and its pastor, the Rev. Debbie Evanovich, mailed us Christmas fabric.
So we hung the fabric nativity scene in our living room. I am putting all the beautiful Christmas cards up on the long cornice. God is preparing us this Christmas in ways we never dreamed of before coming to Malawi.
The Rev. Kay Day, one of the leaders of the Partnership Ministry Team, said in her email, “Christmas preparations will be different this year for you. I hope they are closer to what is pleasing to Jesus than are the ones going on here in the States. We have lost our focus. I am seeing it more and more - it has been commercial since Halloween and intensifies with each day. Jesus is nowhere in the fuss. My prayer is that Jesus is at the center of your preparations. It sounds as if you are well on the way.”
You may not be in Malawi this year, but wherever you are, it is our prayer that even among all the “fuss”you can center on Jesus too. Let’s get ready for his birth together!