A Different Christmas

Monday. Cold tile floor. Mismatched wooden desks pushed against the wall. It doesn’t feel like Christmas.

Green leaves wave on the other side of glass panes. Trees grow in the courtyard of the motel style elementary school nestled in mountains covered in a white-blue haze.

Inside a drafty classroom, wisps of blonde hair frame Cheryl’s face as she stands in front of group 6A.

Brown eyes below curled bangs watch her from the second row. Cheryl calmly pauses telling the Christmas story, and students’ eyes shift to Ellen,* the translator and local church planter.

Cheryl is the third presenter during this forty-minute class period. Each presenter teaches from a carefully crafted script, walking the students through the biblical narrative of creation to Christ.

First, an introduction, a game, and for elementary schoolers—a song. They sing: “I have a friend, a very good friend, and Jesus is his name, oh. J – E – S – U – S.”

Second, creation.

Third, the Christmas story.

By the time Cheryl gets to Bethlehem, the girl in the second row has leaned in, chin on her hand, smile on her face.

Cheryl gestures behind her to the laminated stable illustration on a dusty green chalkboard. A garnet band adorns the ring finger of Cheryl’s left hand. This year, at age 69, she’ll miss celebrating her wedding anniversary and Christmas with her husband of 45 years.

“This is the way we feel . . . it’s so little compared to what Christ did . . . I feel that with all Christ gave to me, to give Him a Christmas is not that much,” she laughs.

Behind her, another volunteer named Bill illustrates the Christmas story with laminated figures.

Group 6A is their fourth class today.

During the next class, the principal slips in, green scarf and green skirt. She and Bill’s wife, Sarah, talked after the last class.

Like Cheryl, who has been here seven times, Bill and Sarah are short-term volunteers. They arrived before Cheryl and will leave after her. They are only a small part of a larger network of people involved in this ministry including translators, “door openers,” teachers and other school staff, church planters and IMB missionaries.

The government won’t allow national Christians to go into schools and teach the gospel. Volunteers from the U.S. can share, but they need interpreters. Working together, they are able to accomplish much.

“They need each other,” says one missionary.

Another missionary explains that local believers use these one-time events as an opening to ongoing ministries.

“They’ll say, ‘Oh, if you’re interested in hearing more about the Bible, or interested in God, or interested in speaking English, then come . . . and meet with us.’”

It’s Tuesday, and the team is back at the high school. The day wears on, and they share the story again. Another class shuffles in, another class files out. The same lesson, three presenters, one translator. They rotate out.

But each time, the focus of the story is the same: Jesus.

Cheryl is jet-lagged. She woke up at 5:30 this morning, 2:30 the morning before. But she gets up and shares the story. She takes notes.

“Every time I hear somebody do it, I learn more,” she says. Cheryl also plans for when the missionaries aren’t there. She knows that next week, she’ll lead while they are home for Christmas.

The last class of the day shuffles in. Perhaps classrooms sound the same around the world. Giggles and quiet scuffing of adolescent shoes on a tile floor, the scrape of chairs and desks. The students take their seats in pea green wooden chairs facing the chalkboard.

Vocabulary words hang on the chalkboard: God, created, perfect, relationship, disobey, consequences, sin, separated, broken relationship, forgive, repent, restore, sacrifice, and Lamb,

One student in the front row, reddish hair tucked into a bun, doesn’t repeat the words.

Each class gets a Bible, given to the class leader. The girl with the red bun takes it, flips through it and passes it back.

The second presenter begins telling the biblical narrative of creation. Ellen’s fourteen-year-old daughter calmly translates.

The girl with the bun talks to her neighbor.

Cheryl gets up to tell the Christmas story.

The girl pulls out her phone. She and her neighbor get up, leaving two empty chairs.

A few minutes later, the girls come back to their chairs and a restless room. The girl with the bun leans over, picking her nails.

In the back row, a student sits, unnoticed. Black bangs fall over his forehead as he also leans forward, reading the class Bible. Legs crossed, he sits still in a grey hoodie, holding a page lightly in his left hand. He has been reading through Genesis the whole class period.

The bell rings and he looks at his watch, and then back down at the Bible. He closes it, puts on his backpack, and hands it back to the class leader.

In this high school, he is just one of more than two thousand students. In 2018, his school became one of the more than thirty-five schools and universities involved in this outreach.

On Friday, this science teacher and door opener will be available to talk over lunch with students. The student in the grey hoodie has access to God’s Word and people who desire to discuss it with him.

Ellen’s husband, Gui, and the academic dean—also a Christian—hope to begin more outreach in this school. The short-term teams and Christmas presentations are only the beginning.

The next Monday, with the full-time missionaries in the U.S. for Christmas, Cheryl leads.

She writes, “Four teams will go to three schools and reach 510 students.”

Perhaps this Christmas isn’t so different at all.

Because Christmas has always been about Jesus.

And this Christmas, through this ministry, around 6,000 East Asian students will have the chance to hear His name.

Prayer Requests:

  • Please pray for every student, teacher and administrator who hears the gospel this Christmas, that God would draw them into a personal relationship with Himself.
  • Please pray for Ellen, Gui and their family, the teachers and school staff, and others who will follow up with students. Pray that their groups will be well attended.
  • Pray for the short-term volunteers, teachers, school staff, local church leaders, translators and long-term missionaries involved in this project. Pray for boldness, unity, health and endurance.
  • Please pray that local Christians will learn from and use this method of sharing the gospel in their own churches and in their own language.
  • Pray for more workers in the harvest.

*Name changed