A Little Grass Hut (A Christmas Story)

One of my favorite traditions on this blog has been posting a Christmas story each year (you can read previous ones here.) This is a true story which I wrote a couple years ago from my first Christmas in Cambodia, and how God intervened to show me a bit of His love.

It was a cool, cloudy day in Mondulkiri province, and the weather matched my mood. Two months before, the school administration had been looking for someone to lead the Christmas program, and I had volunteered. All had gone well for a couple of weeks, and two teachers were beginning to translate the nativity play we’d selected into Khmer, the local language. Then, a few recently-arrived foreigners in the capital tested positive for Covid, the total soon rose to about 20 people, and Cambodia went into lockdown. Shops began to require masks and sprayed money with hand sanitizer. Christensen Adventist School, like all other schools across the country, shut down for two weeks. We continued planning for the program though, sending practice materials to the 150 students at home. We were excited for school to reopen, and would have just two weeks to find actors, costume them, and rehearse the play. Then on short notice, the national Department of Education extended the school closure—indefinitely. There was no other choice; we couldn’t continue the program. The school board made the inevitable choice to cancel the big program, downsizing to a program with just the staff and their families. Somehow though, I didn’t get the full message.

It was a week later, on Wednesday evening, when I learned that the program hadn’t been entirely cancelled, as I had mistakenly thought. We had exactly a week to finish the translation, find singers and actors, teach the songs, which were in English, and organize decorations, props, and costumes. It took the rest of the week just to assign jobs.

We say that everything is twice as hard in the mission field. In the days before the program, it seemed we encountered every problem imaginable. My only assistant who was proficient in the language and culture broke two bones and spent the rest of the week in the hospital. I got food poisoning. I spent an hour solving printer problems just to print the script for the play. God was working too, though, and I was incredibly thankful for it. The staff were happy to help with decorating, preparing food, and costuming.

It was now the day before the program, though; there was still a lot that needed to be done, and my mind zeroed in one thing: the stable. The previous year, the SMs had built a makeshift stable out of cardboard the night before the program. I tend to be perfectionistic, and I balked at the thought of using a cardboard stable. And the previous year’s prop was unusable anyway; it was falling to pieces. We didn’t have enough time to build another—certainly not the sturdy, wooden one I wanted. I reminded myself multiple times throughout the morning that this was God’s program; we’d asked Him to guide and take control of the program, and all I needed to do was my best—and trust Him with the rest. The other preparations were going well, in spite of the short timeframe, and that afternoon we gathered for a rehearsal of the program. The gym was decorated beautifully, in Cambodian style, with balloons stretching its length and red, pink and yellow surrounding the stage. A Christmas tree and a little grass hut were placed on opposite ends of the stage. Lindsay and Daisy, two of the other Student Missionaries, had prepared the actors and singers. Serena ran the sound system. It wasn’t quite perfect, but for the amount of time we’d had, it was amazing how prepared everyone was. I tried to ignore the fact that we had no stable.

In language and concepts familiar to the local Khmer culture, the play told the story of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men as each was led by God to Bethlehem at precisely the right time. The rehearsal culminated when the actors pulled the little grass hut out to the center of the stage, placed the manger under it, and Mary and Joseph entered with their baby, followed by the shepherds and the wise men.

I could hardly believe it. Nobody had asked the decorators to find a stable, but they had done so anyway. And just as 2,000 years ago, God fulfilled His promises to humanity, He fulfilled His promises to me that night.

The Christmas program the next day went perfectly, and besides the school staff families in attendance, dozens more watched online. All of us could see many ways God had intervened to save the program, and I realized firsthand how much God cares about our seemingly insignificant problems, the day He answered my prayer by sending a little grass hut.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Adventist Frontier Missions or any other organization.

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