I’ve been blessed to make my mobile office in far flung places and click away at the latest letter, blog, article or lesson. The surroundings were equally diverse. I once outlined the plan for two hundred lessons of Acts: God’s Training Manual for Today’s Church, which birthed Portable Bible Schools International, on the front side of a restaurant napkin, during our twelfth wedding anniversary getaway at a little rustic hotel on a beach in central Ghana.
These days you find me writing—usually rushed—at World Evangelism Center. My backdrop is an office filled with my growing collection of globes. I sit behind a desk covered with ever-present projects, smacked in front of a huge lighted sign. Encircled outside the globe are the words “The Whole Gospel to the Whole World.” This treasure hung on the outside of one of our earliest headquarters’ facilities sixty or more years ago. It reveals our existence and refocuses our attention. As an organization. As a church. As an individual.
This morning’s setting is a little different. I’m at home. Not a creature is stirring. Except me. My laptop is where it was meant to be—on my lap, and I’m busily clicking out a few faithful words to you. Norman Rockwell would have loved capturing this scene. The lighted tree, in its array of Christmas colors, goes merrily round and round, nestled in the corner of our living room. Fluffy red and white stockings hang from the fireplace. Gifts are neatly wrapped and displayed under the tree and flanked in front of the hearth. No fire this year. Sorry, Norman! In my younger years I would have assessed, shaken, and successfully guessed the contents of each neatly wrapped box or gift bag. These days, in my executive finesse and maturity, I save my energy for lifting boxes on Christmas morning.
Whether from my corner office, flanked with globes, or my Lazy Boy at home, my thoughts often take me to our short-term and long-term missionaries in distant nations, our national ministers, and all those that support and love the cause of global missions. They make it possible—you make it possible—for us to proudly proclaim that the banner of apostolic truth waves high in 208 nations and the sun never sets on the United Pentecostal Church International.
Overall, our Christmases have been spent in West Africa where I didn’t even bother dreaming of a “White Christmas.” Most have been merry. But, there have been a few that have been lacking. My worst memory of Christmas, just because I want to get it off my chest, is one of my first as a married guy, when I was clowning around, and accidentally backed into—and broke—my in-law’s Christmas tree. My mother-in-law was never one to get angry. Congratulations, James! You brought her pretty close. I still remember the look of her disappointment and displeasure. It still leaves me shuddering in despair and stuttering at the computer keyboard. My father-in-law was able to get the tree base fixed. But, alas the tree was wounded and never the same again. And, we were reminded of my folly, on a yearly basis. The tree was shipped off to Africa to be featured in our home there. Crooked. Crippled. Even broken things are the makings of great Christmas memories.
Then, there was our first Christmas in Ghana in 1995. Twas the morning of Christmas, and all through the house…no cooking gas could be found. Cooking gas selectively goes out at the absolute worst of times. I scoured the city for hours just so we could have breakfast Christmas muffins at lunch or supper. Yep, that takes the cake, or I should say blueberry muffin, for ranking first place as my most carnal Christmas.
My most unforgettable Christmas was the first one Linda and I shared as a brand-spanking-newly-married couple thirty years ago. We were on AIM in Nigeria. We had been hitched for three weeks when we returned to the field during the holiday season. Our first month’s income was $12.79, or was it $12.59? I often get it mixed up. Doesn’t matter. What difference does twenty cents make, one way or the other? We had brought with us this little paper pop-up Christmas tree to decorate. No need for lights. They only would serve as a constant distraction for cockroaches-with-nine-lives that scurried across the concrete floor. Amazingly, we felt so alone in the midst of 100,000,000 people. My Christmas gifts that year from my new bride (I have no idea how she found the money); a pair of sandals and a Nigerian peach-colored “up-and-down.” That’s the equivalent to a very bright pair of pajamas designed to be worn in public. It made perfect sense, as I sit here thinking about it. Peach was Linda’s favorite color so it should be mine as well. Right? Wrong! I have no idea what I bought her that year. Hopefully it was something better than that first doll I brought her from Holland. You know the classy one, with the wooden shoes. I thought all girls, at any age, loved dolls. Right? Wrong! It’s marvelous, though, how the most un-treasured gifts ultimately become the most treasured ones. The worst of memories eventually become the best of memories. Now, I struggle, on a yearly basis, to recall the many gifts I receive. Some of the unforgettable memories have not surfaced from when I’ve had much but from when I’ve had little.
So, this year, whether your Christmas is white or green, cold or hot, at home or far from home, longstanding family or new-found friends, lonely or crowded, plenty or lean, evergreen or palm, my sage advice is embrace this season of life as you face the holiday season. The memories in the making are your own!