“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
With those words I hear Handel’s Messiah with a choir ringing in my ears with the words sung over and over, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” It was the reality of those words that landed us in Brazil as missionaries, and there our celebrations of Christmas were different than any we had known.
When I checked with Doris about our first Christmas in Brazil—that was 1955–Doris said, “I don’t remember. Our ears and eyes and minds were busy with learning the language.” We were the only ones in our mission so we spent Christmas alone with our baby girl, Monica. But I don’t recall being lonely perhaps because we were on the greatest adventure of our lives.
After that year we moved to Rio Preto in the interior of the State of São Paulo with Murdo, Isabel and Ross Campbell arriving there just before us. It was a Christmas gathering at their home that Doris and I will never forget for we could chat in English and not struggle with our Portuguese.
As we relaxed around the table we looked for Monica who was about two. It seemed impossible that she had escaped to the busy street a few feet from the home. Somehow she had climbed a wrought-iron gate at the front door and when we looked we saw her standing in the middle of the street with traffic passing on both sides. I screamed a prayer out to God and ran to pick her up. But for the grace of the Eternal Father who sent his angels to put their wings around our little girl, there could have been a tragedy.
After a year or so when the Campbells returned to Canada, we moved to the small village of Neves Paulista in the midst of coffee farms. It was not long before we became so involved in planting a number of congregations that we came to Christmas with no energy for a family celebration. Too busy to get a special Christmas dinner ready Doris brought out the leftovers for us while we remembered the turkey and deserts enjoyed by our families in Canada.. Nor could we find money for presents for Monica and Vernon. At that time our children would not have objected for they had no memories of better times.
The village of Neves was poor with few decorations to remind us of the season. We were doing missionary work and it demanded our all—perhaps too much. But there is evidence that we left a mark on lives for the Christ of Christmas, at least I suppose so for the following Christmas one of the families gave us a piglet ready for roasting. A little pig for Christmas took the place of a turkey—a custom that made sense for turkeys would have been hard to find. Perhaps it was that same Christmas that folks from a farm gave us a half sack of mangoes.
After furlough we were assigned to Rio de Janeiro to plant a church and since no other missionaries were nearby we celebrated Christmas by ourselves but quite differently. Most churches of whatever stripe would have their services at midnight and then the folks would return home to have their Christmas dinner in the wee hours of the morning.
But Doris packed a lunch for our small family and we travelled up and over the mountains to enjoy the hot sun, the surf and sand of a quiet beach. At that time and place there was not one person in sight to notice Monica and Vernon playing in the water and building sand castles. Perhaps it was not on that Christmas day but I do recall leaving our spot on the beach to swim across the mouth of a small river and there finding oysters on the rocks.
So we were faced with the challenge of a meal of fresh oysters although none of us have ever been excited about oysters, especially when raw. I then swam across this small river with the children on my back—one at a time—to pry oysters from the rock with as tire iron, then crack them open and eat them there. Doris is not a swimmer so she was not able to get to those rocks nor did we bring any back for her for I doubted she would eat them.
Doris had our Christmas dinner laid out on a blanket on the sand and although it was nothing fancy, just a picnic with our toes close to the water and the surf rumbling in our ears. Yet it is a Christmas that I wish the four of us could repeat once again on that beach.
Nostalgia for those Christmases long past bring tears close to the surface. Then, yes then we remember the joy of every Christmas, the birth of our Lord of which the prophet Isaiah spoke, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” With faith we look beyond the best of any celebration here to an eternal one that has no ending.
A blessed Christmas to everyone,
Roy & Doris