Christmas in Abéché
Christmas is the holiday that brings the most warmth to our hearts, and many memories of romance, love and joy from the past. For many of us around the world, a little snow on the ground adds that special touch to a perfect Christmas day.
However, the typical western Christmas scene is far different from the one the shepherds experienced on the outskirts of Bethlehem, in what we call the “Third World”.
As we were approaching the Christmas season in Abéché, you hardly knew it. In the central market, there were no Christmas trees, Santa Clauses, manger scenes or Christmas lights. No one was singing carols, no one was running around shopping for presents. And come December 25th, the market opened as it does almost every day, and many inside did not even know how special this day is to many of us.
Not unlike Bethlehem
Of course, not all of this is bad. In the US, perhaps the focus on Santa, elves, trees and mistletoe distracts us from the story that causes us to celebrate! And perhaps this little desert town of Abéché looks more like Bethlehem that blesséd night than the most elaborate, living manger scene in front of an American church or business.
As adults, we understand this and can get by without the glitz and the feeling a winter scene of red ribbons and colored lights brings… but our family of girls would feel homesick without reminders of the season in December, or a few presents waiting under the tree.
If we can overcome the homesickness, Christmas in the Third World can be the best sort of Christmas, the kind which helps us to focus on the true meaning of this holiday: “So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us…” (John 1:14, NLT)
Before you and I ever thought about living in an unfamiliar culture, He did it first. He is our example of how to become a part of our new home without forgetting where we came from, and why we are here…
Gifts and memories
After a special breakfast of pumpkin muffins and a time of reading the passages in the Gospels about Jesus’ birth, we opened our gifts in the morning. Everything worked fine and everything fit fine, except for a few of the gifts I bought for the girls. Sarah’s headphones instantly broke apart, and the stereo for Sharon would not work. Since Christmas is a normal day at the market, I was able to get her headphones replaced at the boutique with ones that have a microphone on them. When Sarah puts the replacement headphones on, she looks like a telemarketer or a pilot, ready to take off…
Another fun gift we found at the market this year was for Deborah. She broke her fragile mp3 players, so after much effort, we found an mp3 player that looks like a Pepsi can, with a big speaker on the top. She loves to listen to her Pepsi when school is over.
On Christmas afternoon that year, there was a presentation about Christmas at the local English school, featuring the Christian songs and Scripture readings of the Holiday. Afterwards, there were all sorts of delicious refreshments. Debbie got to see her friends from New Zealand, and we caught up with a few of ours. For Christmas, Sharon was in the kitchen most of the day. She made cottage cheese using a recipe simpler and quicker than mine, and used it to make a delicious lasagna for Christmas dinner!
For Boxing Day, each of the girls started coughing and having fevers. It took several days for them to shake them off, and they were quite miserable during that time. Eventually, they were all on antibiotics; God used the medicine and heard our prayers, and just in time for New Year’s Eve, they were doing better!
While the girls started watching BBC’s version of Pride & Prejudice on our little video player, I made grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade fries for supper. After supper, we finished watching the video, and I left a little early to start the bonfire. Either I started it too early or I did not buy enough firewood, or perhaps the brush we used to start the fire was too powerful, because the peak of the flames was over by the time the girls were out. With a little thought, however, we were able to keep a flame going and the embers burning until after midnight… along with memories of the perfect Christmas and New Years we had in Abéché, back in 2013.