I hope you will join us for some of my reflections of my visit to Nigeria this Advent. How can I explain the joy I experienced and the joy I saw in others when I went to Nigeria as a missionary? We usually think of joy as "happiness" that comes from external circumstances. For most of the people I met at Faith Alive Hospital and the Anawim Home, external circumstances are very bad. Yet I saw that a lot of the people there were joyful. I remember how surprised I was by this when I attended my first support group meeting of the patients at Faith Alive. The patients shared stories with one another, prayed together, and sang songs of praise to God. I will never forget the woman that stood up and shared her story thanking the Faith Alive staff for helping her. What was most surprising is that she thanked God for her illness because she said through the crisis of her illness she became closer to God.
The Greek word for joy is chara. It means rejoicing, gladness, enjoyment, bliss and to celebrate. This patient was celebrating her illness because now she felt closer to the Lord! To her being close to the Lord was the most important thing. It brought her great gladness. The patients at Faith Alive believe they are privileged just to be alive, receiving God's grace. The Greek word for grace is charis which means unmerited favor. To these people joy was an absolute assumption in grace from God. This joy did not depend on external circumstances.
As all the Christmas hype begins this season here at home, I pray to be joyful like my Nigerian friends. I watch reports on the news of people actually trampling over one another as they wait here in line at stores to buy merchandise for themselves or presents for others. I realize our economy is not good right now and some of the merchandise is on sale, but this makes me sad. Christmas is not supposed to be like this--to be about external things. It is not supposed to be about buying more and more things. We are supposed to be patiently and peacefully waiting during Advent for the arrival of the wonderful day of our Lord's birthday. Luke 2:10 says, "But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."
The discovery of Christ brings joy! Chara is the result which comes from the glorious discovery of our Lord and Savior in every circumstance where we wish to find Him. If we chose to we can see Him all around us this season. But He will be in people not things. Our world is frantically seeking happiness in external circumstances. But this happiness never lasts and can not bring true satisfaction. This season can be crazy. Most people I know are really searching for a joy that comes from inside. But they are exhausted by running around shopping for gifts that others really do not need. They have no time to contemplate the true meaning of this holiday.
I hope that our partners at Faith Alive Hospital and the Anawim Home can continue their good work of not only helping to cure sickness, to feed and clothe the poor, but to also help people know the Lord. They do this by selflessly giving their time and talents out of love. What better gift to give at Christmas then to give of ourselves to the less fortunate.
We can not all be missionaries or to be doing the work that Dr. Chris and Sr. Oresao do. But we can HELP them do what they do, by giving only a small donation. It only takes a little to do so much there. We can choose to celebrate this Christmas in a God honoring way. We can find joy on the inside by giving to those in great need. We can buy just one less present and use that money to give to people who do not even have the necessities of life--medical supplies, clothing and food. We can choose to discover Christ in the eyes of women and children who are homeless and sick, like the Bible states truly ,"the least of the least". Let's choose not only to experience joy this Advent, but to be a catalyst for joy to the less fortunate.