Karlene Thiessen, from LaCrete, Alberta, served with MCC in Choma, Zambia, with her husband, Anthony, from 2002 to 2005. This reflection was published by MCC in 2003.
The day that Christmas struck was the day I turned my eyes and thoughts outward and off myself. It was a day I received undeserved blessings through unexpected people.
My husband, Anthony, and I took a day trip out to Sinazongwe, a small Zambian village, which is on Lake Kariba and about an hour's drive from our place in Choma. It was a beautiful drive. The hills were radiant with green, the recent rains were an answer to prayer.
On our way there, Anthony spotted a man, woman and child waving for a ride. Being scared of picking up people, I said, "Don't stop," and we passed them by. Anthony was not very impressed. He asked, "Karlene, when are you going to stop letting your fear control whether you help others?"
It wasn't too far down the road when the thought came to me that we just passed up an opportunity to help a man, his wife and their child. Wait a minute! Joseph, Mary and Jesus were a total of three people. What if it had been them on the side of the road and I just ignored their need? They may have asked for a ride during their time on earth. Would I have helped them? I made up my mind that if Anthony wanted to give others a ride, I wouldn’t try to stop him.
Well, wouldn't you know it, we ended up giving about 10 people a ride that day and we took one guy all the way back to Choma. I learned a wonderful lesson about how to use the little that I have, three empty seats, to help others. It was a glimpse of Christmas.
We arrived at the lake and were awed by its beauty and white sandy beach. It was wonderful to be together, and we talked about our six months in Zambia, our joys, our fears, our frustrations, our challenges and our hopes. Our trip home was full of stops to help those who were walking far distances. More than once we heard "God bless you," as a passenger stepped out of the truck, and I kept on thinking that I didn't deserve that blessing.
We turned off about half-way home and headed into Sika Longa. When we first arrived in Zambia, we were placed in a family's home in Sika Longa for three weeks. Alfred and Bbodela Munkombwe and their children became like our adopted family. Now they never know when to expect our visits, as it is almost impossible to get word to them beforehand.
They were surprised to see us and we enjoyed a few hours together. It was good to be with them again. Anthony shared with Mr. Munkombwe that we had been thinking and praying about helping with Gertrude's schooling. Gertrude is the eldest daughter, and she had been accepted to attend teachers' training college. However, we had heard she might not go because of a lack of funds. They hadn't asked for or expected our help and they were extremely thankful for our offer.
The father told Anthony that he had been budgeting so Gertrude could go to school. So far he had 100,000 Zambian kwacha saved. We said we would give the additional 80,000 kwacha that was still needed for the first semester. It was a blessing to see their thankfulness. Gertrude's eyes showed surprise and happiness when she heard the news.
I asked her, "Now will you send the letter to the college to confirm that you are going?"
"Yes," she replied with a big smile.
We needed to leave so we would get back before dark, and as we headed out to the truck, Christmas struck. Mrs. Munkombwe came with a bag of freshly picked green maize cobs and six eggs from their chickens. "For Christmas," she said.
We thanked her and the family for the items. But they weren't finished yet. As we neared the truck we heard a "baaaa-baaa." We peered into the back, and there was a goat! "For Christmas," they said again. This was a goat from the herd they bought after Anthony suggested they raise goats so they could have their own meat. A goat that would reduce their herd to six. A goat that would be expensive to replace for a family that does not have a constant cash income. A goat from a family that just received maize in order to survive a season of hunger. A goat that they could have butchered and ate. A goat from a father who was scrimping to be able to send his daughter to college. A goat that we didn't need.
Yet they gave out of their poverty, and in turn overwhelmed us, blessed us and taught us what Christmas truly means -- a priceless gift that was generously given to those who did not deserve it.
We tried to express how grateful we were. As I grasped the father's hand and thanked him again, I asked him if they could afford to give one of their goats away. His answer will always stick with me: "Oh yes, by the power of God."
Oh, to have such faith and generosity in the face of adversity. May God bless them richly because they have touched us and taught me more than they will ever know.