Back in November I wrote a blog on materialism at Christmas and how Kyle and I and his family had chosen to give our Christmas away by serving the Church in Thailand. Many people have commented on the sacrifice it must have been to “give our Christmas away”, spend our Christmas in another country, sweating instead of curling up by the fire with family 🙂 but I want to tell you about the gifts we received this Christmas. They weren’t physical, but they were by far the most meaningful gifts I have ever received. I was reminded this Christmas that we serve a good God who loves to give us good gifts!
Gift #1 – Connecting with old friends
One of the things Kyle and I were looking forward to the most was reconnecting with our Thai friends we grew to know and love when we lived there 2 years ago. And what a gift it was to see our friends’ maturity with Jesus grow and their leadership and commitment to serve him even when it meant personal or family sacrifice.
The first gift from God came the day we arrived. Our plane was delayed 4 hours in Chicago, causing us to miss our connecting flight in Tokyo. We were bummed that we would likely miss church Sunday morning due to this delay, but had come to accept that as we waited in Chicago. However, when we arrived in Tokyo, we learned that our flight into Bangkok Thailand would arrive at 5:30am Sunday morning! We could still make it to church to worship with our friends! After being picked up at the airport in Bangkok, tired from around 36 hours of travel and running on adrenaline and pure excitement, the missionary informed us that Kyle’s good friend, P Chin would be preaching his first sermon that morning! When we met P Chin over 2 years ago, he was a believer, but very rough around the edges. Before he knew Jesus, he was a murderer, drug dealer, and spirit channeler, and although he had experienced much healing and transformation in his life, he still liked to argue with authority, especially the pastor. Since we left, he had been growing in his leadership and softening his heart to authority, and about a month ago, he started Bible school to become a pastor. The Sunday we arrived was his first sermon and God blessed us greatly by being able to be there to hear it!
Later in the week, I was reminiscing with our friend Knot about how much he had grown since we first met him over 2 years ago. He was not a believer back then and was consumed with making money. He had since committed to follow Christ, been baptized, shares the Gospel with anyone he meets, and leads a Bible study in his home. He told me that after we left, he had realized that he didn’t have enough time to serve God like he wanted to, so he quit his job so he could serve God better. I was floored by this comment. He said it so matter-of-factly, like it was the most logical thing to do if one doesn’t have time to serve. So many times, we use not having enough time to serve as an excuse not to. But this money-driven businessman had been transformed by the grace of Jesus and now works only part time so he can serve in the church. What a gift to see the seed that was planted years ago, growing, bearing fruit, and planting seeds of its own!
Gift #2 – Serving with family
Our family’s role in the Christmas outreaches was to help with kids games and activities, bake hundreds of cookies and Christmas goodies to share, and serve the missionaries in several other random ways. Between our team and the TREK team who serves there full time, we helped the churches host 10 outreach events in 9 days. Kyle and I had been a part of similar events while on TREK 2 years ago, but what a gift it was to serve with family – to see how each person’s gifts and passions combined to make a great team, to cover for one another when someone was sick, to learn from one another as we studied the Bible together, to see their passions come alive as they served, and even to serve outside our comfort zones and be stretched together!
Gift #3 – Giving meaningful gifts
The Thai church received 200 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes this year to give away at the outreaches. These shoeboxes are packed with hygiene items, toys, school supplies and other things to bless needly children. Our family has packed OCC boxes for years and this year we got to be a part of seeing the other side of OCC boxes. Even though there was not enough shoeboxes for every child at every outreach, there was always enough gifts for every child to receive something for Christmas. For many of these kids, a small plastic toy was the best toy they maybe ever had. At an event at a factory complex, the kids played with the cement blocks, rocks, sticks, or whatever else they could find in the dirt field. A toy means a lot to a child like that.
On Christmas morning, we woke up early, enjoyed a “white Christmas” view outside with the fog all around, then headed to a preschool owned and operated by a couple from one of the village churches. These kids live in a remote tribal village in the mountains and if they didn’t have a preschool to go to, they would be going to the rice fields with their parents and wouldn’t know any Thai when they began school. Pastor Son and his wife Wana, opened this preschool 13 years ago to serve the children in their village, giving them a safe place to play and learn Thai. We hung out with the kids and gave them each a coat. Despite being in the tropics, it gets down to 55 at night there in the mountains – quite cold when one lives in bamboo huts like these kids. It was special for the whole family to spend our Christmas morning blessing these kids in this way.
The best gift given this Christmas, however, was the gift of the Gospel. Another name for Jesus is Immanuel, which means “God with us.” This name took on new meaning for me this Christmas. Being God, Jesus was all-powerful while he was on earth, but he submitted himself to the Father’s will. When he was faced with betrayal and immense suffering, he could have called angels to save him, but it would have been against God’s perfect plan. Imagine the self-control required of a martyr who could free himself at will! This was necessary, though, for him to provide us with right relationship with God. But he didn’t do it out of obligation. No! He did it because he loves each of us so deeply. Jesus desires relationship with every person on earth – the Christian, the atheist, the Buddhist, Muslim, and Animist. But because God is holy and perfect, our sin separates us from God and we cannot have right relationship with him. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and the wages of our sin is death. But all along, God had a plan to save us from our sin and that plan was for Jesus to take our place so we could have right relationship with the Creator God who loves us so dearly! That is why Jesus came to earth as a baby over 2000 years ago. That is why we celebrate Christmas.
THAT my friends is the best Gift anyone has ever given – the gift of salvation!
Thousands of people in Thailand heard this Gospel for the first time this Christmas season, and our family was blessed to be a part of it.
The Gospel is the best gift anyone can give!