Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad! Throughout the years my excitement and anticipation for Christmas has taken various forms. There was a time when Christmas used to be about presents. Some of my best childhood memories take me back to the anticipation of opening presents on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. I can still feel the hope I had in believing my life was going to be so much better because of a specific gift. Then came the excitement about the food. Each year I close my eyes and can almost smell Christmas dinner at my grandparents. I remember more than the smell of the meal. I remember as I sat at the table, I felt comfort, safety, a sense of belonging, and deep love as my family ate together. I remember the feeling of incompleteness, loss, and sadness when those chairs and places at the table where certain family members once sat were filled with someone else. I still miss those family members who once sat in those places. Things changed when we had children. Seeing the anticipation, excitement, and joy as they asked to open presents until they finally ripped off the Christmas wrapping and beamed with joy over their new gift. I went through a season where the Christmas season was a task. Decorating the church, planning Christmas parties, and preparing for Christmas Eve services. I enjoyed creating the opportunities to celebrate, but I lost the joy for a little while. I forgot the meaning, the hope, I lost the anticipation of Christ at Christmas. I forgot to celebrate.
This past year has been a challenging journey. I can not say it has been all bad, but at the same time, I am not going to pretend it was all good. To be honest most of the time it was a mix of both at the same time. Yet as the year comes to an end and the Christmas season has begun, I have a much deeper appreciation, strong anticipation, and a greater hope as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. A year ago we were a few weeks into recovering from the second Category 5 hurricane that hit Honduras in less than two weeks. We were scrambling to develop a plan to assist the hurricane victims in our area. Additionally, there was a cloud of uncertainty hanging over us regarding COVID. We would spend the first four months of the year slowly returning to weekly visits in the villages. When we returned to the villages we were hindered by COVID protocols. There was uncertainty as to who would send mission teams throughout the year. There were many months of excitement and then disappointment as we hoped to return to classes in person at Abundant Life Christian School. Yet, we remained virtual. We faced a roller coaster of emotions as team members on the field left and new members joined. Uncertainty over the presidential elections was over us most of the year. We were certain ministry was going to look different, we just did not know to what extent ministry would look like in 2021.
Yet despite the uncertainty and the overwhelming physical and spiritual needs so many good things happened. The year kicked off with the construction of dormitories at the farm. The foundation was laid, walls were built, the bathroom was started with the help of the Sowers, a roof was put on, and after the summer the walls and roof to the second floor were constructed. All of this was possible because of some very generous donations. Through the partnership with other missionaries in the area hurricane victims received immediate relief as we provided food packages. We specifically choose communities where we had connections and were blessed by the assistance of several pastors in the distribution of food and ministry to those relocated by the hurricanes. Along with food distribution, several homes received new roofs, one family received a new home, a second family started construction of their new home, and the land was purchased as well as a partnership with a local ministry was established to build new homes for up to seven families. Over the last several years we have developed a study called Church Identity, to help churches know who they are and what they are called to. This year Church ID was launched in several new churches. The Hunger Farm grew, not just with the addition of the dormitories. A retaining wall was installed in the fish pond, a trail was cleared on the property, we harvested coffee for the second year in a row, the overall sustainability and productivity of the farm increased, and a grant proposal to develop the farm is in the process of being written. Also, the ministry purchased 25 acres of the hunger farm from Ellis Baptist Association for future development. The radio station faithfully shared the Gospel and survived the COVID crisis. The radio’s request to form a new ministry was approved as well. Despite being virtual, the Abundant Life School was one of only a few schools in the country to provide quality education. Although we struggled with the uncertainty of mission teams coming this year, 11 teams returned to continue ministering to their partnership villages. And finally, the 61 Isaiah field-based team grew. This time last year there were 11 field-based team members. This year the team grew to 14, plus three translators. This of course is the highlights and there is not enough adequate space to tell the personal stories of change and growth.
As we reflect on Christmas last year while preparing for Christmas this year, things are different. Last year a cloud of uncertainty, despair, and disappointment was cast over us. This year, there is hope, excitement, and anticipation for the coming year. We know this year will be a mix of good and bad, but we are more optimistic there will be more good than bad. It makes me think, the birth of Christ must have had similar clouds. From the perspective of the condition of the world there most certainly was a cloud of uncertainly, despair, and disappointment due to years of captivity and current Roman rule. I can only imagine how different that cloud was perceived as the angel broke through to announce the birth of the Messiah to the Shepherds. How the personal feelings of Mary and Joseph were changed as the Angel announced his name, Immanuel, God with Us. I can imagine the change of perspective the wisemen felt when they saw the birth announcement through the Star (talk about a birth announcement/gender reveal never been done before or since). I will never know but can only imagine the anticipation Mary and Joseph felt for 9 months before becoming a reality as the greatest gift given by God to humanity was born. I can feel the excitement, hope, and optimism they must have felt as they look at the fulfilled prophecies becoming a reality as God came to dwell in the flesh. It is amazing how different a cloud of emotions can truly be when Jesus is part of the equation.
The greatest lesson I have learned this year has been the “Table.” My heart and eyes were opened as I have been studying the prophet, Malachi, this year. I learned how sacrifices were seen as an intimate meal between God and his children. As I attempted to influence things like fair and just hurricane relief, COVID protocols, ending virtual school in order to return to class in person, as well as political issues such as immigration, I realized I have to try to get a seat at the wrong table. I realized I already have a seat at the table, the Lord’s table. I realized that he is in the head seat and I am invited first to intimacy with him and second to be a part of his plan to bring hope, salvation, and life to a broken world. I realized that the birth of Christ is the only true hope and reason I can sit at the Table. So this year as I gather for Christmas at the table to enjoy a Christmas meal with my family, I will be seeing things much differently. I will know that I am gathering each day at the Table not just once a year, but every day. I will be reminded to not let the invitation to the Table become a task but to be a daily celebration of what Christ has done and an anticipation of what he is going to do.