Monday, December 27, 2010

Blessings of the Christ Child

Creche at our parish, Church of Jesus Christ the Redeemer

Merry Merry Christmas and Blessings of the Christ Child to one and all…

It’s really hard to believe it is Christmas here in East Africa. Off the beaten path it does not –feel– like Christmas. The sun is blazing hot and the humidity is off the chart. An occasional breeze blows by. We sit and swelter. I search for signs of Christmas. Christmas trees? Barren desert. Christmas lights? No electricity. A Christmas toast? Unpotable water. Christmas cards? Illiteracy. Candy canes? Bare cupboards. Christmas parties? Malaria & HIV/AIDS. Christmas presents? Abject poverty.

Living in a predominantly Muslim society in the poorest region of Tanzania, how does one ‘experience' the joy and wonder of Christmas?

On Christmas Eve Earl & I returned from our first vacation in Tanzania. Heading north, we rocked & rolled on a cramped dilapidated bus for more than 9 hours to Dar es Salaam. After taking a few days to take care of personal stuff, we boarded an overcrowded ferry and set sail across the Indian Ocean to the isle of Zanzibar. We spent 3 days in the charming historic city of Stone Town & then 3 days on the northernmost tip at a lovely picturesque beach in Nungwi. Returning to the YMCA in Dar, we spent a few more days in the hustle & bustle of the big sprawling seaport. It was there at the Y that we saw our first Christmas tree! But it was very short, scrawny, artificial and so pathetic and forlorn that it was depressing. Even a Charlie Brown Christmas tree has more charm. Why bother?

Moreover, we would not have known it was Advent except for the Scripture readings at Mass every morning. However, we do celebrate Christmas Eve in a big way at our church. But once you step outside, it’s just another sizzling hot dusty day. Bummer.

Soooooo I was really struck when our best friend, Moris, texted us the “Invitation” that Earl posted below. Yes, I have been invited to Jesus’ birthday party before, but this was the first invitation that suggested you “cleanse your heart beforehand.” In a country where the level of poverty is staggering at 33.6 percent; where the number of poor has increased by 1.3 million*; where most child deaths are due to malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, malnutrition, low birth weight complications as well as HIV/AIDS; and where about 27.5 per cent of the population is illiterate**—Christmas is celebrated in the HEART. Not with glittery Christmas trees, twinkling Christmas lights & cheery Christmas toasts. Not with corny Christmas cards, red-striped candy canes, late night parties or extravagant presents. Strangers to the rampant consumerism & materialism around the world, Tanzanians know very well the meaning of Christmas. They know where to find the Christ Child on Christmas morn. They do not have to search far and wide. They simply look into the inn of their heart.

Well, it is nearly a year and a half since we landed here in East Africa in July, 2009! WOW!!!

We pray that everyone, especially our dear family and friends, will have a Blessed Christmas and a New Year abundant with God’s graces. May your lives be filled with much love, an abiding peace, an everlasting hope, and abundant joy. Please know that you are ever in our hearts and prayers — for you are greatly missed and deeply loved. ~ Diane

* Household Budget Survey 2007, United Nations Development Program
**Statistics cited from the United Nations Development Program:

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