Todd Smith - Selah Christmas
- Monday, December 13, 1999
My family lived as missionairies in Congo (Zaire), Africa from 1978-86. One of the big ways we celebrated Christmas was by ordering a box of apples from South Africa. We couldn't grow them in Congo, and they were so expensive we could only afford them once a year. It took so long for shipments to get to us that mom would have to order the apples two months before Christmas. When they arrived, mom and my sister Shawn would make apple pies. I remember one year the apples didn't come in time, so Shawn went out to our backyard, picked some mangos off the tree, and we had mango pie instead.
There was one Christmas in Africa when we drove 16 hours to get to the capital city of Kinshasa to pick up packages friends had sent from America. I remember we were so excited. We all got our packages except my sister Nicol. When my dad asked the postmaster why we didn't get her package, he said it was because dad didn't pay him enough money. What had really happened was the postmaster had opened the package (they do that in Congo) and decided he wanted Nicol's clothes for his kids instead. As dad looked behind the man he saw his kids playing in the clothes mom had ordered for Nicol. Both mom and Nicol cried, but fortunately we were in the capital city, so mom was able to buy Nicol other things.
We had electricity every night for five hours. We hardly ever had it during the day, except when mom had to wash clothes. However, on Christmas morning dad would turn on the generator. It was a big deal! We would play Christmas music, turn on the Christmas tree lights, dad would play the organ, mom would play the piano, and the whole family would sing together. Then dad would read the Christmas story. We kids would act interested and listen patiently, and then run over to the tree and open up the presents, one person at a time.
Looking back over all the Christmases we've celebrated, the ones that stand out are the ones in Africa. They were the Christmases when we didn't have much, or when things didn't go just right, or when we didn't get everything we wanted. What's funny is that I couldn't tell you what presents I've received in the past 13 years since we've been back in America. I don't remember ever having to worry about the electricity working here in the States. So many more conveniences and gifts, and yet the Christmas that holds the warmest memories was the one when we hardly had anything.
It was the Christmas of 1979 - our second in Africa. Shawn was 11, Nicol was 9, I was 6, and Jack was six months. We lived in the bush at a mission station my Grandpa Smith founded called Nkara Ewa (it means Seven Springs). There were no shopping malls, J. Crew catalogues, no Wal-Mart's or 24-hour Super K-marts. There was a marketplace 20 minutes from us, and on good days, you could get bananas and really nice big red combs. Great gift items. That year packages people had sent from the States didn't come, so we had to give presents to each other from things we had already used ourselves. Nicol did crochet, and she made some clothes for Shawn's dolls. I drew pictures to the girls and Jack. Nicol gave me a "Ken" doll and dental floss (unused)! (I think she was trying to tell me something!) For our parents, we took construction paper, drew our hand-prints on each piece, and wrote poems and notes telling them how much they meant to us. We even cut our hair and taped it on the pages. I'm not quite sure why or what we were thinking with the hair deal. I guess we just had nothing else to give, so we gave a piece of ourselves. Nicol reminded me that I also said to mom, "Mommy, I don't have anything else to give you, except a kiss, but it's from the bottom of my heart."
The thing I remember the most about that Christmas was the Christmas tree itself - that is if you could call it a tree. In the middle of our living room stood four palm tree branches my dad had cut off a tree in our backyard. He placed them in a Quaker Oatmeal bucket and filled it with dirt. I think it had some popcorn strung around it, and the few gifts we made for each other were underneath it. It was the ugliest looking tree I'd ever seen. There was nothing to it, and as far as gifts go, there wasn't much to those either, and yet that is my favorite Christmas. That tree is the one I remember the most. We had nothing, and we had everything. Everything that was truly important was there. We had Jesus, we had each other, we gave what we had and we gave with love.
Wishing you a Christmas filled with warm memories as we celebrate God's priceless Gift of Love.
Todd, his sister Nicol, along with Allan Hall make up the group Selah - click here for more info on them and their music!
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