In a short while, it will be Christmas and, in Africa, this celebration is not a cold, snowy one – it’s the hottest time of the year.
With Covid having hit us unexpectedly in 2020, our Christmas celebrations have changed, and everything depends on the Covid stats. I sometimes wonder if it will be a free Christmas, or will the streets be empty again as with many countries around the world? With everything going on, I’m standing in hope and praying for a turnaround. But what does it mean to have a free Christmas?
Well, for 10-year-old Adel* who works at a garbage filtration workshop in a rural town in Egypt, Christmas is a time to be free and become a child again. Growing up in deep poverty with a father who is addicted to alcohol, Adel was forced to start working from a very young age. If he did not bring home enough money at the end of the day, his father would punish him with a beating. “I hated my life,” Adel shares, looking down. “I didn’t know what the purpose of it was.”
Adel never went to Sunday school or learned a lot about God at home. He went to church from time to time – for instance, to get his gift at Christmas, but never dived deeper into the teachings of the Gospel. Adel was humiliated by his boss and teammates at work. He was paid less than his Muslim co-workers, and his teammates would call him “crazy” because he’s a Christian.
“I didn’t know a lot about God yet,” Adel explains. “So I didn’t know what to say when they said bad things about Jesus. I didn’t have any answers. Also, I didn’t have anyone to ask for the answers. I felt ashamed of my Christianity.”
When Adel heard of a children’s ministry classes around his area and that it was during his work break time, he decided to attend the classes as much as possible. It was after one of those children’s ministry classes that fieldworker Marta* first noticed Adel.
“He was sitting alone in the corner while the other kids played around him,” she said. “When I looked at his eyes the first time, I saw a lost person. He told me about his life. I felt the pain in what he was telling me.”
Marta and Adel became friends while he continued to attend the classes. “One of the most important topics I talked with him about is ‘God as a father’. His image of God was distorted as his own father did not set a good example,” says Marta.
During the classes, Adel learned that he was uniquely created and known by God before he was even born. He is now building a relationship with his Saviour, Jesus. “Knowing God makes me feel happy,” Adel says. “I know I have a Father in heaven that I can always talk to. That’s amazing.”
Adel also learned how to defend his faith against misconceptions. He even dared to speak with his co-workers and explained to them that Christians don’t believe in three Gods, but that God is one. “I even used verses from the Old Testament to prove it,” Adel says with a proud smile.
Adel’s struggle isn’t over yet, and neither is our journey with him and his family. But this Christmas will be special for Adel because, for the first time, the physical gift he gets at church will not be his highlight. The celebration that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to the earth because He loved a poor little boy in Egypt and so many others will be his highlight. A truly merry and free Christmas.
So with that being said, my prayer for you is that you’ll also experience the true celebration of Jesus Christ and will be filled with joy and freedom as you ponder on your living Saviour – beyond all the tangible gifts you will receive.
For Southern Africa, I pray that the streets will be filled with rest, peace and you’ll get to see your friends and loved ones who came home, some from the distant lands, and children will safely play and sing happy songs in the streets again.
I pray that churches will be allowed to gather for celebrations, and the youth choir will sing their Christmas carols, and children can act out their Christmas skits. I pray for Christmas clothes and presents for the little kiddies, just like how we grew up. I pray that it will be all about celebrating the birth and Kingship of Jesus. I pray that we will be safe. Safe because all our loved ones are in one place and because the Lord will be protecting us.
Sadly, for persecuted believers, these kinds of prayers are not even close to their reality, especially during the pandemic and Christmas time. It is one of the worst times for them as they’re daily targets due to their faith.
So for them, I pray that this Christmas will be a time of community and safety for them too. As some spend this Christmas in prison while others are monitored, hunted down and tortured, I pray that they will remember and experience the true freedom of knowing Jesus and being known by Him.
Thank you for your love and support for our persecuted family of faith. Through all that you do, they can continue to run the race faithfully during this Christmas season. You can be a part of that change. Click here to #sparkhope and be a hero of faith.
Name changed for security reasons*