By Jon and Karen Lambert
Karen and I hope you are enjoying this Christmas season. Christmas in Ecuador is a bit different from the celebrations in North America. Yes, there is gift giving, Christmas trees, and some lights strung in front of houses. But other parts of the celebrations are different.
The family nativity scene is of much more importance. There is a big business here constructing miniature stables and caverns to house the nativity figures. Live plants are also important. Around the stable will be placed bougainvillea and Spanish moss collected from trees and hillsides. Both of these plants are an essential part of Christmas decoration.
Those of the Catholic faith will attend special services where priests will bless each family’s baby Jesus. Hundreds will bring beautifully decorated baskets holding a figure of the baby Jesus dressed in special clothing. Yes, it does seem kind of strange to North Americans, but here that is the custom. And, as always, there will be drinking. In Ecuador there always is a dark side to every aspect of life, where hopelessness is ever present. In Christ, however, the chains of the past are broken. In our churches, old rituals and superstitions are shunned. Celebrations do, however, almost always include a live nativity using children as participants. In our churches, Jesus really is the focus.
Part of our Christmas in Ecuador includes delivering gifts to the kids who are apart of Children of Promise. This year is no different. We normally have a special party in each congregation; the sponsored children sing, have refreshments, hear the Christmas story, and then open presents.
When we had the party this year at the El Carmen, or “Victoria’s Church,” one child would not open his gifts. Karen went over to talk with Steven. Steven is a very serious, intelligent nine-year-old. Asked why he had not opened his present, Steven slowly responded, “I will wait until Jesus’ birthday, because this is the only present I will get.”
For many children in Ecuador, the reality of life overtakes the joys of Christmas. At times, life here reminds me of the stories my grandmother told me about her life in eastern Kentucky when she was a child in the 1920s. Here also, a poor child’s only Christmas gift might be an orange, or an apple, if anything at all.
Oh, that we would each make a difference in a child’s life this Christmas. God has certainly blessed us greatly. Learn more about Children of Promise at www.echildrenofpromise.org. Learn more about Church of God missions at www.chogmissions.org.