During our early years in Yimbéré, Cameroon, our eyes were opened to Christmas in a new way.
Our son’s birthday is December 23. When he turned two, we decided to invite a few of his friends over. The friends came—and so did most of the kids from the village, of all ages. It was a great cultural lesson. We were serving with the Kwanja people. In their face-to-face society parties are not closed events to which a few people are invited. Everyone who wants to come, comes! And they were most welcome, though we did have to scramble to get enough popcorn popped for everybody to have a little!
During the party, my wife, Joan, asked me to tell the kids the Christmas story. As I spoke, I tried to describe the difficulties Mary and Joseph went through to get all the way to Bethlehem for the census. I said things like “There were no cars, so they walked or went on a donkey for a distance of around 70 miles. There were no telephones or ways to book a room ahead, so they had to take what was available on arrival…”
And then it hit me! These Kwanja kids could easily imagine a high government official ordering ordinary people to come for a census. They would walk, it would take days, they would arrive and have to take whatever they could find for lodgings…
As a modern westerner, I often wonder how well we really understand Biblical stories and what it felt like to live in those times. The Kwanja (or Dowayo, or Vuté, or any other group we work with) probably understand much of Scripture better than we do once it is translated into their language—because their lives are more similar to life in Biblical times than ours.
Over the past thirty-plus years, Christmas at Yimbéré has evolved. It always includes a Christmas play that Joan wrote years ago, now led by young adults who performed in the play when they were kids, and who desire the tradition to continue. We rejoice that those who come to church at Christmastime hear the Christmas story from the Bible, and they hear it in their own Kwanja language.