Just when many of you are putting away your Christmas decorations, I'm going to post one more Christmas blog.
The morning after Christmas ("Boxing Day" throughout the British-influenced world) Judy and I, along with Stephen Snell, an American Family Practice resident, drove up to the village of Tumba, to worship with our friends there. The Tumba Church of the Nazarene is co-pastored by husband and wife Elis and Kopi. The service that morning featured a big "drama", a term applied to any skit or play.
The folks here often have a drama as part of a special service. We've seen reenactments of the arrival of the first missionaries, the early days of the hospital, or scenarios depicting the consequences of sinful living. Costumes and props are improvised, and usually simple. Makeup is sometimes used to a limited extent. This drama was the entire Christmas story.
Pastor Elis greeting Stephen with a big hug.
This dear, faithful lady can't stand upright, and needs her stick to walk. Little things like that don't keep her from worship, nor from participating in the life of the church, as we'll see below.
Since they were expecting us, they had prepared a formal greeting, as befits the arrival of anyone so important as a doctor or a missionary or a visitor from America. And our group included 2 doctors, 3 missionaries, and 3 visitors from America!
Pastor Kopi and the folks singing "You are from the USA, we are from PNG, but God unites under the cross".
All the churches decorate their sanctuaries with flowers, fruit, vegetables and greens every Sunday, but Tumba usually is a bit more elaborate, and at Christmas time goes over the top.
If you look closely, you'll see candles placed along the edge of this display, quite close to some of the greenery. I needn't have worried. As soon as the leaves caught fire, a young boy ran up to put them out. He wisely blew out the other candles as well.
It's almost time to start, and almost half of the people have already arrived. The level of excitement was.... Well, I can't think of anything very funny. I'll just say that a lot more people arrived eventually. Notice the little guy in the isle. He was cute and I wanted to be his friend. After all, I'm trying to refine my Grandpa skills.
He was clearly not interested in having me practice on him. Big white guys are pretty scary!
This was the day that the people brought gifts for their pastors. I'm not sure that most of the churches do this, but I was happy to see it, as Elis and Kopi give and work sacrificially, and don't receive much in the way of cash salary. One of the gifts was the mattress. You'll also notice pillows and a blanket.
The time for the drama has arrived! Pastor Kopi draws back the curtain to reveal the stable. It is made out of leafy branches, and is decorated with a small (insert dramatic pause and drumroll here)...
MANGER SCENE. It's a simple little one that Judy bought in a yard sale in the US several years ago, and gave to Pastor Elis as a gift. They have used it as some part of the decorations in the church ever since.
The drama begins with Mary.
The angel Gabriel (and a few of his friends) come to tell Mary what's coming up.
Mary is, of course, surprised and a bit alarmed at the news that she will be pregnant.
Angels, apparently, have pale white faces.
Joseph, meanwhile, is snoozing over by the left wall on a bench by his dad. It's his turn to have a visit from Gabriel. He's upset by the pregnancy news, but resolves to make the best of things and obey the angel's instructions.
So M&J talk it over, and decide to go ahead with things.
I have always wondered what Caesar Augustus looked like. This is one idea. I'm not entirely sure that I buy into this particular artistic vision, but it's interesting. I don't know why I don't have a full-face shot of him. Pretty intimidating, if you ask me. If he told me to go to my "as ples" (home town) and "raitim nem" (sign my name), I probably would. Apparently M&J don't see any reason to resist.
So they head out to Bethlehem (not on a donkey, which isn't biblical anyway), only to find each of several inns have no vacancy. Every one of the inn keepers looked a lot like Pastor Elis. Mary is in the throes of labor, as you can tell.
Finally, one of the inn keepers (who again looks like Elis) offers a "rabis haus" (garbage house), full of the smell of feces and urine of the animals. Joseph seems to think that this is the best offer he's likely to come across, and books the stable. The happy couple disappear into the leafy bower.
Meanwhile, there were in that country, in the back corner of the church, shepherds watching over their flocks. They in turn get their visit from Gabriel and company. They head straight to Bethlehem.
There are several new things that I learned about shepherds. One is that they have a penchant for wearing leafy branches on their heads. Also, since there are more female actors available than male, many shepherds have to have painted-on beards.
My flash wouldn't cycle fast enough for me to get a good shot of this particular shepherd, but he was played by the same hunched-over little old lady that I included a picture of at the beginning of this post. She looked like she was having a lot of fun being a shepherd.
Now, of course, it's time for Herod to do his bit. This was clearly the award-winning performance of this production.
Herod was escorted by his soldiers. Scary soldiers. I wouldn't want to tangle with either one of them!
King H awaits his audience with the wise men...
who are on their way, following the star.
Great crowns, eh?
The star pauses while the wise men meet with Herod, who is quite distressed about the prospect of a competing king.
Herod consults his own wise men, and decides to send the 3 from the East on their star-following way, with instructions to return with detailed intelligence.
The star leads them faithfully on their way.
Herod, meanwhile, broods while he awaits their return, muttering about his feelings in regard to a baby king being born in his territory. Even as he does, the wise men sneak out the back door of the stable, circle around the back way, and escape stage left.
Finally, old Hal realizes that he was been tricked, and explodes with rage. It scared my right off my bench!
Gabriel and company make one last visit to warn M&J...
who in turn sneak out the back door of the stable, circle around the back way...
and head to Egypt with the baby Jesus. As a blow for biblical authenticity, this kid is about the size that Jesus probably was when they headed out.
And the cast gathers for a curtain call and a closing song. Herod, as it turns out, is quite a good guitar player!
After the service, they passed out gifts to children who had attended Sunday School and Children's church faithfully throughout 2010. The gifts that the largest group received were just cups--simple drinking mugs. But that is a pretty nice gift. Someone had to come up with the money, go all the way to Hagen, buy all the cups, bring them home, and wrap them. This church is strongly committed to ministry to the children.
This little friend, so scared of me at the beginning, played his part as baby Jesus, and then watched, not too patiently, as his friends and siblings went up and collected their presents. He cried, and tried to go up several times. When his name was finally called, he zipped up to claim his prize. He was much happier than he looks in this picture.
The Kopi family--Michael, John, Kopi, James
Agnes and Elis.
They lost little Nensol to meningitis about 3 years ago
Agnes and Elis.
They lost little Nensol to meningitis about 3 years ago
On our way back to Kudjip, we stopped for Stephen to photograph scenery, and asked a passerby to take a picture of the three of us. Stephen is a fine young doctor whom the Lord is calling into a life in medical missions.
A late Merry Christmas, and a not-quite-so-late Happy New year to all of you. May the Lord bless and guide each of you in 2011!