A Very LBT Christmas

Emily Wilson & Rev. Rich Rudowske

About The Episode

Cozy up by the fire or your favorite chair and take a Christmas tour around the world. Celebrate Christmas Lutheran Bible Translator style! What do you love about Christmas? Context, memories, food, decorations, culture… What makes Christmas seem complete? Join Emily Wilson and Rich Rudowske to discuss traditions and family, the Word in action, Scripture coming alive, and what Christmas is all about. “One of the wonderful things about Christmas is to give… God gave us our greatest need and gave it to us lavishly.” – Rev. Rich Rudowske, chief operating officer, Lutheran Bible Translators

00:01
Rich Rudowske
Yeah, it’s one of the wonderful things about Christmas is to give. That’s part of the vibe of Christmas because, you know, God gave us our greatest need and gave it to us lavishly. Welcome to the Essentially Translatable podcast brought to you by Lutheran Bible Translators. My name is Rich Rudowske. I’m the Chief Operating Officer here at LBT. Today’s episode is a collection of Christmas stories from our missionaries, staff and partners around the globe. Cozy up by the fire or in a comfy chair and join me and my co-host, LBT’s public relations coordinator, Emily Wilson, as we journey through Christmas around the world, Lutheran Bible Translator-style. Welcome to a special Christmas edition of the Essentially Translatable podcast. 


00:57
Rich Rudowske
I am Rich Rudowske here with Emily Wilson, and we are going to share some Christmas stories from our friends and colleagues here at Lutheran Bible Translators and different than a lot of our episodes, this one will just be a little bit longer and you get the opportunity to hear from a lot of different perspectives and just cozy up by the fire and maybe turn it on, turn it off, come back to it, whatever works for you over the Christmas break to just hear some different perspectives on Christmas. What do you love about Christmas, Emily? 


01:27
Emily Wilson
I love the cooking and the baking, and I’m not really into the snow…  


01:34
Rich Rudowske
Right. Right.


01:35
Emily Wilson
I have become a little bit of a greenhouse plant over the years, but just all of the festivities, but especially the Christmas traditions in the church, all of the Advent traditions and seeing the decorations come up and the sanctuary and the hymns, “O come, O come, Emmanuel”, my favorite. All of the theology. 


02:02
Rich Rudowske
That’s true. So tell us a little bit about these stories, where we got them from and some of themes here. 


02:09
Emily Wilson
So we contacted our missionaries, our staff to see what do you love about Christmas and what are some special memories that you have so just kind of gleaned from there? Some things that you can connect to regardless of where you are in the world, whether you’re in the northern hemisphere, southern hemisphere. These are things that, you know, traditional stories. And the first one here by Barb Beerman, she’s a staff member here in Concordia. And I love her story because it really reminds me of a story that I had growing up with our nativity set that we would set up and kind of playing with them. She shared with us growing up, my parents always had a manger scene arranged on top of a low cabinet. And when one of my siblings kids visited around the holidays, which was often, I noticed something strange afterward. 


03:06
Emily Wilson
Some of the pieces, specifically the lambs, were out of place like they had been knocked over. Later, I noticed that they were back in the correct position and assumed someone had straightened them up on the display. I watched the next time, and sure enough, my niece spent a lot of time in front of the manger. She looked at it intently and moved the characters a bit here and there. And finally, she turned over the lambs and walked away. I stopped her to ask why she had done that, and she said the lambs needed their naps, too. Apparently, she had turned them over and set them upright again later when nap time was over. It’s like that interactive nativity set before that came out from Fisher Price. 


03:50
Rich Rudowske
Yeah. And yeah, lambs need naps too. We could all learn from that. 


03:54
Emily Wilson
Right? 


03:56
Rich Rudowske
Also, I remember I’m an older sibling and my younger siblings always moving stuff around there. That’s one of the great things about them, is they can be interactive and, kind of, a 3D representation. I think that’s why the story of Christmas is so vivid for kids. And then as you grow into adulthood, there’s so many vivid memories from childhood because it’s such really an interactive, and it’s unusual, but there’s something very close to home about it, too. 


04:23
Emily Wilson
I love the nativity sets, too, that I’ve seen from our international partners as well. There’s the wood carvings or seeing the Ethiopian depiction in an illustration, and just how they visualize it from their cultural perspective and the different colors that we use and associate versus what is really important. It’s just seeing how we can bring it into our culture and reflect on that and just also capture a visual. 


04:53
Emily Wilson
Right. 


04:54
Emily Wilson
We’re full of the imagination and wanting to reach out and see and how we capture that in Sunday school programs with those adorable little angels dressed up. I was the angel one year. But just how much we seek to connect with Scripture and the nativity story in general. 


05:21
Rich Rudowske
Yeah. For some reason, I can remember the first time when I was at my grandparents’ church for Christmas that I made the connection that Christmas was about Jesus birth. We heard the stories and sang the songs, but I was like, oh, okay, this is what this is all about. 


05:36
Emily Wilson
Just that kind of kinetic. 


05:38
Rich Rudowske
But there’s. And the thing is that Christmas, in our American context has a lot of stuff that goes with it that you just take for granted as all part of the Christmas experience. And some of these next stories sort of touch on that as you move to different parts of the world and experience different things that you’ve connected with Christmas. But you see that, hey, Christmas is still happening, even though the weather is different, the food is different. And so we’re going to hear from Chris Pluger from his story of their first southern hemisphere Christmas in Zambia, and some of the things they ran into. 


06:21
Chris Pluger
So, one of our big family traditions for Christmas time is homemade sugar cookies decorated with frosting. This is the big thing that we always do with Janine’s mom. And ever since Sean’s been just a tiny kid, he’s always loved Christmas cookies. So our first year in Zambia, just because it was our first year in Zambia, there were no sugar cookies at all. And it was very sad. We had none of the stuff to make it. We couldn’t do Christmas cookies, and so it was Christmas without cookies, and it was sad. So, for our second Christmas, Janine made very careful plans to make sure we had everything that we needed. So when were in the capital, we had to buy the fancy, refined sugar, because the normal raw sugar we could buy locally didn’t make good sugar cookies. 


07:01
Chris Pluger
We got some African animal-shaped cookie cutters, Santa sleighs. We had giraffes and rhinos and elephants. We even had a big Africa-shaped one, which was cool, because then we could put Red Hots on the places where we lived. So we got those from a tourist shop in Lusaka. And then we even had somebody who came to visit us bring some Crisco, because her mom’s Christmas cookie recipe, which is the only proper Christmas cookie recipe, has to have real Crisco in it. So we had all of those things to sort, and then my mom was actually there for that. So we all had this big Christmas cookie-making party, and we made dozens and dozens of cookies, and we’re rolling them out and all of that. 


07:36
Chris Pluger
The downside was it was so hot that the cookies spread way too much when they were on the pan, and they were, like, paper thin and all the icing ran. But once we figured all that out and put them in the fridge right away, it was a lot of fun, and it tasted good, and it was finally a real Christmas because we had Christmas cookies. So that was awesome. 


07:56
Rich Rudowske
Right? 


07:57
Emily Wilson
There has never been so much preparation for Christmas cookies. 


08:01
Rich Rudowske
That’s right. Yeah. 


08:03
Emily Wilson
I really take for granted just being able to go down to the store and pick up just sugar. Just a pound of sugar. 


08:11
Rich Rudowske
Right. 


08:11
Emily Wilson
But how special those memories are for them. Even the runny icing, right? 


08:19
Rich Rudowske
Yeah. And just to get the stuff to make cookies, some of those specialty items, they’re so complicated. I can remember we also made some cookies. And were explaining to some of the folks there, they asked, “Well, how did you make these, because these are really good. How’d you make them?” So my wife says, “Well, you use a cup of sugar.” And they said, “What size cup?” So she shows them that there’s these measuring cups that are standard size. And the woman looks at this cup and she says, “Oh, this is powerful.” 


08:51
Emily Wilson
I love it. Yeah. There is so much within the Christmas baking tradition, too, of sharing and how much it’s the coveted recipes, and you hold them tight to you. But also, then everyone expects that plate of cookies, right? My cousins always expect those sandwich cookies from my mother. And no, she makes them the best way. But how important it is, too, for our cultural expectations within Christmas of sharing and gift giving. And so Chris actually shared with us, too, a story of gift-giving in Zambia, southern Africa. 


09:42
Chris Pluger
One of our favorite parts of Christmas in Zambia was making and delivering the presents that we got for the special people that worked with us. And there were six of them. So there was our local pastor, there were the three translators for our Bible project, and then there were our two houseworkers. So we would go out to the supermarket in the Capitol before the holidays and pick up all sorts of just kind of normal house-holdy things. We’d get flour and sugar and tea and a bottle of cooking oil and some salt, rice and beans, candles, matches, watching paste, sweets for the kids, cookies, whatever we could think of. And we would buy those in the Capitol. And it was so fun to just walk through the store and think, “Oh, what do people use? What do people need?” 


10:23
Chris Pluger
And then we buy six of them. So we’d load up our shopping cart with six of all of these different things, bags of flour and the whole bit. And it was so much fun to decide what we would get every year and pick out a couple of fun things. So then we’d get back to our village and we put them all into everything, into a large plastic bucket, because you can never have enough plastic buckets in Zambia, especially the nice ones with the lids. And so we’d load those up with all the stuff. So we’d have six buckets lined up, and it’d be like a supply chain or an assembly line, and Sean would help us put them all in, and then we’d go and deliver them on Christmas Eve day. 


10:57
Chris Pluger
So with all the holiday cooking and the special company that people had, everybody loved and appreciated this extra little contribution, because then they could make fresh bread and do things like that were very special for their company, kind of provide that for them. The last year were there, the translators had kind of figured us out and she had a chicken ready to give to us in exchange. So that was fun, too. So we got a live chicken for Christmas, but the main thing was delivering those buckets because that was just so much fun to just do that little sort of everyday thing for people that was so appreciated. 


11:30
Rich Rudowske
Yeah, it’s one of the wonderful things about Christmas is to give and just know that whether it’s an important need or even what maybe other times of the year is kind of just a frivolous need. That’s part of the vibe of Christmas, because God gave us our greatest need and gave it to us lavishly. And so part of the gift of like, well, do I really need, you know, Jesus coming is more than we need. It’s so much more than we need. That’s really great. So that gift giving and just experiencing the joy of putting it together, thinking it through, it’s so much fun. 


12:03
Emily Wilson
I love it. And just the relationship that comes through that of maybe there are some gifts that we receive over the years who got me that, I don’t know. But the fact that I love that they figured me out and just the relationship that came with it of they were so intentional. Like, what do people want? What do people need? And being able to reach out and say, this is me caring for you and loving you and being a neighbor and just that reciprocation, too. I’ve never gotten a live chicken for Christmas. Right?


12:39
Rich Rudowske
Yeah, me neither. 


12:42
Emily Wilson
I love it. So, also thinking about traditions, right? So there’s baking, and we talked about the nativity set and gift giving, but there also the anticipation leading up to Christmas and the joy of being able to reflect on the years of waiting for a Messiah and the.. So I grew up with an Advent calendar, but it was kind of a low, was it was a chocolate calendar, so probably less meaningful than.. Alvina Federwitz has this awesome story of an Advent calendar that she made. But rather than me telling it to you because there’s so much more to it, let’s hand it over to Alvina. 


13:36
Alvina Federwitz
My late husband, Reverend Dale Federwitz, and I became members of Lutheran Bible Translators in August of 1971, which just made me realize that next year it’s going to be 50 years already that I’ve been a member of Lutheran Bible Translators. In 1973, my late husband and I were assigned to work among a very Muslim group of people. I mean, they were very conservative. And this was in Liberia, West Africa and I remember when we got to Liberia and were going to be introduced to the group of people we were going to work among which was the Mendingo. It took us 23 trips to go and find the Paramount chief. He was never there when we got there. And every time went to meet him, we had to leave our children with strangers because were brand new in Liberia. 


14:29
Alvina Federwitz
And at that time, Jonathan was only two years old and Becca was only one year old. And the last night that just before we finally met him, I just said, I can’t do this anymore, because our children just did not like being alone all the time away from us. And then when we moved into the village and we met with the town leadership, I remember them telling us, well, we’ve had two mission groups that have moved into our village. And when they started church, we asked them to leave, and so don’t start a church. And we said, well, weren’t going to do that. We were going to put God’s Word into a language they understood and they could decide how they wanted to worship God. And that seemed to be okay with them. 


15:10
Alvina Federwitz
So I’m giving you that preamble to why I developed an Advent calendar for our children. And so I’m going to read what has become a book now, because the Advent calendar has become a part of our family. And let me just say that we have four children, and all four of them are missionaries, Bible translation missionaries. And so this calendar that I’m going to be telling you about is being used by all four families. And this is what I wrote in the book, and it’s a note to the parents who are going to be using this calendar. This Advent calendar began taking shape in November of 1974. We, Dale and Alvina Federwitz with Jonathan, age 3, and Rebecca, age 2, were living in a very small mud block house made by the Muslim Mendingo people in Bakidu, Liberia, West Africa. 


16:03
Alvina Federwitz
There was not one thing that remotely resembled Christmas was approaching. Instead of snow, harmattan, which is dust from the Sahara desert, descended upon everything in our house, making the heat and humidity even more unbearable. Instead of church bells, we heard the ritual Muslim town crier calling people to pray to Allah. There was no electricity or American-type stores in our town, and were lucky if we could even find a few simple commodities, much less Christmas decorations, and hear Christmas music that would have prepared us for season if we had been in the States. I realized that it would take some creativity to prepare our hearts for Christmas. Initially, I considered sticking a few palm branches into a bucket of sand and decorating them with popcorn strings and homemade ornaments. Ever our five-foot by ten livingroom hardly lent itself for a Christmas tree. 


16:56
Alvina Federwitz
Besides, that would have been very non-cultural in this Muslim tropical rainforest village. I dug through my box of fabric and I came across a two-yard piece of red gingham checked piece of fabric and various colorful scraps of felt that I had brought with me from the States. So with Jonathan in hand and Rebecca on my back and David in my belly, who arrived two months later, I walked into town, went to a shop that had a few pieces of fabric. There I found a blue-greenish fabric that would have been sold to make trousers for a man. By Thanksgiving of 1974, I had used my hand sewing machine to sew a blue-greenish tree onto the red gingham check cloth. 


17:41
Alvina Federwitz
I had put pockets on the bottom of this tree and I had decorated the tree with some rick-rack and trimmings I had found in my craft box. So when Advent started, the pockets at the base of the tree were ready for ornaments and so I was in the process of making them each day during Advent of 1974. Each afternoon I was trying to get an ornament ready for the kids to put onto the tree. That evening, a few of the ornaments were ideas I had gotten from a pattern I had seen at a fellow missionary’s home, but basically they were original. Dale added a few ideas here and there and particularly helped me find appropriate Bible references that fit my themes for the ornaments. 


18:28
Alvina Federwitz
As our years in Liberia passed, our children grew and we added new Bible references, many of which were never really written down and those that were were lost in the Liberian Civil War that began at Christmas of 1989. Then the day came that we became grandparents and my children wanted to pass this tradition on to their families and so Dale and I took the time to revise it in 1998 and pass it on. It was our prayer that this Advent calendar would be passed on from one generation to the next, and it would help keep the true meaning of Christmas in the Federwitz family. Since the Advent season does not have the same number of days each year, we had to make texts for angel ornaments in such a way that in the years they have more days. 


19:18
Alvina Federwitz
You can use the full text and in short Advent season you can skip some of the text. When our children were small, you may want to give them a very abbreviated version of each text for the ornament you put on the tree. However, as they grow up, it may be good to let them read the text or the Bible preferences. Perhaps they have original ideas of how the ornament reminds them of something regarding to who Jesus is and why he is the source of our salvation. This could lend itself to a good family discussion regarding preparing one’s heart for Christmas. 


19:54
Emily Wilson
That is a pretty beautiful Advent calendar. I mean, all of the detail that went into arranging for it right baby back, going into the local market and finding the right material, and she goes on and hopefully we can share more about all of the detail. The verses that go along with each of the ornaments is just incredible. But she has used this and the family has used this to prepare their hearts each Christmas for the true meaning, why we are in need of a Savior and how he came and has delivered us. It’s just really a beautiful opportunity to reflect on the Christmas season. And I also have heard that it’s been used as an evangelism tool for her grandchildren, which is really pretty awesome when you think about it. 


21:03
Rich Rudowske
Yeah, it’s really amazing. And the seeds that were sown, she probably had no idea at the beginning when she’s got a baby on her back and another baby inside and she’s walking through this hot market finding this scraps of material that it would end up being used this way and so near and dear to her family. And like you said, even used as a tool to reach out and share the Gospel. So those small seeds, those labors of love, I mean, I heard her say the words hand sewing machine. I’m not even sure what that mean. I thought they were either like hand-sewing or sewing machine. So that sounds like an extra level of complexity to me. And so what a gift. 


21:42
Rich Rudowske
And at the beginning of her story, when she talked about there was nothing around that could prepare me for Christmas, I mean, she was thinking of decoration-wise, environment-wise, weather-wise. Those are the same experiences that my family and I had when went to Botswana more than ten years ago now. And also went in July. We already knew this is going to be different. We had two winters because we had the regular winter in Michigan. And then when we got to Botswana, it was winter again, which is not nearly as bad, but it was cold. And then we came to summer in November and December. And at that time, I actually wrote a reflection that was published, and I’m just going to read some of that, of what were experiencing. So what is Christmas to you? 


22:41
Rich Rudowske
Probably most of you listening will know that the correct answer is supposed to be things like, it’s the day we remember the birth of Jesus. It’s the Jesus is the reason for the season. You might even use theological words like incarnation or talk of the wonder of God becoming flesh. And of course, you’re right, it is all those things. But the reality is that for all of us, lots of other things have gotten wrapped up with Christmas and they’re very much a part of it for us as well. Things like family church celebrations by candlelight, Advent services, Christmas trees and tons of lights. And if you live far enough north, snow is a part of Christmas. Retail shopping madness and grabbing a cup of Starbucks while making the frosty rounds are part of Christmas. 


23:24
Rich Rudowske
Turkey and mashed potatoes and watching Bowl games are part of it. We don’t say or act like these things are necessary, but for many of us, these are important aspects of Christmas. So in 2009, my wife, my five children and I moved to the rural Kalahari desert village of Kang in the southern African nation of Botswana. And were there to help translate the Bible into Shekgalagari, a minority language spoken by over 200,000 people. And a few months after we arrived there, our first celebration of Christmas came and we experienced all those familiar things being stripped away from our celebration of Christmas Advent services. Not there. Christmas lights. We did see a few in the city, but electricity is like a prepaid commodity and a luxury, so nobody wastes it on things like Christmas lights, Starbucks and making the frosty rounds. No way. 


24:16
Rich Rudowske
I mean Nest Cafe and is too hot anyways and more like ice water and 100 degree temperatures in the southern African summer. Christmas Eve celebrations by candlelight, the candles would have melted in that church. It was a midnight service in a stifling tin building and I actually got sick and we had to leave early on that first Christmas Eve. And the next morning we didn’t wake up early to go to grandma’s. Instead, my kids and I got up early on Christmas morning. We went with our neighbors from the village to their cattle post and there we helped them slaughter a goat for Christmas dinner. That’s right, our Christmas dinner was alive on Christmas morning. And instead of a pine Christmas tree filling the living room with that wonderful aroma, we made our Christmas tree by tracing our hands on green paper. 


25:02
Rich Rudowske
We cut those out and taped them to the wall. We waited till almost 4:00 in the afternoon to let the heat of the day pass, and then we gathered for Christmas dinner with our neighbors. We ate outside in a shady, sandy area of our yard and we had potato salad and watermelon complementing that main course of goat. Many people here spend Christmas at their home village and they go to the village gathering spot to watch traditional dance and choir competitions. There was no football. There was no pie. There was no Christmas bargain shopping or after-Christmas bargain shopping. It was so different. And I never realized how much being a northern hemisphere Christian had influenced my feelings of Christmas. I never realized how much I expected Santa and snowmen as much as Jesus and a manger. 


25:47
Rich Rudowske
And incidentally, I was in Ethiopia around Christmas time a few years ago and the missionaries I was with, we visited Anglican church while were there and they had a Christmas service. And it made me laugh insid, all the carols we sang that had to do with snow and starry nights and all this stuff. I mean, that’s just what we have really wrapped that all together. And so I never realized how much that was affecting my view of Christmas. I never expected that the sun staying up till 9:30 on Christmas Eve would take some of that holiness out of the silent night. But in all of it, one thing really came through to me. You strip all that other stuff away and the historical fact remains, God became man. 


26:29
Rich Rudowske
Jesus was born of a virgin in a small Middle Eastern village some 2000 years ago in a place that was actually quite a bit like the village I was living in at that time. And his arrival in world history irrevocably altered the course of the universe and everything within it. He made it possible for all of us to be reconciled to God. And with so many things different and so many things missing from our celebration of Christmas, that fact just became more prominent and clearer to me. You can take away all the stuff of Christmas, which is good and it’s great for celebrating. You take them all away and you still have Jesus, you still have the incarnation. He came to walk among the human race in a very different place than the glory of heaven. 


27:09
Rich Rudowske
He gave up His glory to lead us to God. And only in being completely removed from all that I’d come to find familiar and myself striving to become incarnate in another place and another culture. Could I really focus on the real gift of Christmas? God became man in Jesus Christ and we had the privilege to share that good news. And that is the greatest gift of all. 


27:30
Emily Wilson
That’s so awesome, that perspective, right? And that posturing. I wonder how many of us, during this pandemic and this unusual season of where the traditions are no longer quite as present, right. How many of us will be similarly reflecting what is really the heart of the season and how is it that I have filled it up? Right? 


28:05
Rich Rudowske
Yeah, it’s true. I read in the news recently, I forget who, and I don’t want to be political, but some government officials saying, well, Christmas may not be possible. And I think what that person meant to say is the type of celebrations you’re used to celebrating. But Christmas is so much more than that and like you said, there is nothing that can come, pandemic or otherwise, that will prevent Christmas from actually coming. The celebration because Jesus has come. 


28:37
Emily Wilson
Absolutely. So, wanting to share from a different region in Africa, Michael Ursland, who recently spent his first term in Ghana, West Africa, and his experience a little bit from a similar perspective, but also completely unique. And all of the celebration leading up to so wanting to share Michael’s story. 


29:08
Michael Ersland
Hello, I’m Michael Ursland, working with the Komba Old Testament translation project in Ghana. And when I think about Christmas in Kombaland, I think of churches from the area all gathering together for several days for Christmas convention. And it’s just an exciting time. A high-adrenaline worship services starting in the morning, going to the afternoon, and then starting in the evening and going to midnight. Just awesome to be together with fellow believers, Komba brothers and sisters in Christ. And something that one of the pastors likes to preach on Isaiah, chapter 60:1, that is, “arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” And just this joy that we have as people, that knowing that God loves us, interacts with us and sent Jesus to provide this hope, this light into our lives. 


30:13
Michael Ersland
And as we’re gathering together at night for evening worship for Christmas convention, and it’s dark with some light shining people’s flashlights or maybe a generator-powered light, and as the pastor’s preaching and saying, rise, shine, for your light has come, it’s just exciting to get to experience that also of being in this darkness and realizing what a gift light is and that Christ is the light for our lives. And we have this light during Christmas that we remember, and he comes and dwells among us. So that’s a memory, something from Kombaland that I’ve learned from my brothers and sisters in Christ in Vintiri, Ghana, and hope to share with you. And I hope that you have light-filled, Christ-filled, joyous Christmas. And so for my wife Naomi and I, we wish you a merry Christmas. 


31:19
Rich Rudowske
It’s so true how being in a different place highlights different parts of scripture. And there the darkness and the light really coming through in those old Testament texts, those prophecies pointing to. And that’s in, you know, we look at advent and really focus on the darkness and light. And of course, there’s all kinds of prophecy that does that. But there are a whole bunch of other prophecies about the Messiah that talk about water and deserts turning into places of growth. And one year at one of the churches there for Advent, instead of having candles, they had four glasses, three of them purple and one of them pink. And each Sunday they filled one of them up with water and had texts to do with the prophecies of Christ coming. And that fit the context because weather-wise, the dry season has been dragging on. 


32:13
Rich Rudowske
And when you get to the time of advent, you’re also hoping for those first rains. And so it’s just really, in the northern hemisphere, it’s that time of darkness. And you go to some of the historical development of Christmas. It does have to do with, like, it just keeps getting dark earlier and earlier, and is it ever going to be light again? And so the way that Scripture connects to life, regardless of where you are and what you’re experiencing, the Holy Spirit has masterfully woven together this scripture that will touch you one way or another. Yeah. 


32:44
Emily Wilson
And just thinking about the imagery, how Scripture is so alive with that imagery of essential. Right. Thinking about the original context where light was, we didn’t have light pollution. Right. And thinking about when it was dark, it was utterly dark. And what was out beyond the fringes of your settlement might hurt you. Right. And how light brings life, it brings protection. And thinking about the messiah as that life and protection, absolutely. Thinking about water in the desert being life and protection of your surviving. Right. It’s beyond just and then beyond just surviving, but thriving. And how powerful that imagery is. And like you said, the spirit is at work, that this is relevant for any context wherever and how people have adapted accordingly within. Right. Southern Africa. It keeps getting lighter in those evenings, but water is that commodity, that scarcity. 


34:01
Emily Wilson
And so drawing in, it’s amazing how the church can sharpen one another in different regions. And Jim Kaiser has a story, too, about maybe it’s not the elements per se, but a common life experience of travel and how that has impacted his understanding of the nativity story, of thinking about the travel of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem and how much that has really changed his understanding over the years from his own personal experiences. 


34:49
Jim Kaiser
It was my first Christmas Eve in Africa. Susan and I were bumping along a rural dirt road in northern Sierra Leone. It was getting late in the day, so I was trying to hurry as much as possible so that we would reach our destination before dark. But Susan, who was expecting our first son in two weeks, kept begging me to slow down so that she wouldn’t get shaken around so much. My mind went to another man who also had to travel on rough roads with his pregnant wife? Did Joseph sometimes have to hurry so that they would reach their lodging by nightfall? Did Mary sometimes beg him to slow down so that her stomach didn’t bounce so much on the back of the donkey? Those are answers that we will never know here on earth. 


35:34
Jim Kaiser
But that experience did give me more of a connection to the human part of the Christmas story of God actually becoming a baby in Mary’s womb. 


35:43
Rich Rudowske
Yeah. If you’ve ever ridden with Jim Kaiser, you know Susan’s concerns are real. But I love that take on things that just the humanity of the story because the Christmas story is in one way sanitized. None of us have walked or ridden on donkeys for this is like a 40 mile trip for Mary and Joseph. I go 40 miles to just go to Walmart and I do it all in one day. But that’s a major undertaking for most of human history, honestly. And even in many parts of the world today, it still can be a major undertaking even just to go that kind of distance. And I love that being in that context, that, again, is probably more similar to the biblical context. It takes your mind to these relationships going on, Joseph and Mary and how are they interacting on this trip? 


36:40
Emily Wilson
Absolutely. And human relationships, like, here’s a man and woman who really don’t necessarily know each other that well. And travel brings out the best and the worst of us. 


36:55
Rich Rudowske
It can. That’s true. 


36:57
Emily Wilson
But thinking about, like you said, how we sanitize it, certainly my nativity set that I have, Mary is looking very sharp, very clean, and everyone is clean and pristine. And the hair is just so, just thinking about, know, the incarnation, God becoming man. That was a messy business. 


37:26
Rich Rudowske
It was. I wonder if the angels are in heaven saying, you want to send them at this time in this mean, you know, it’s going to get better. Hospital-wise and Columbia-wise, this is. 


37:43
Emily Wilson
So. 


37:46
Rich Rudowske
Martin Weber, a longtime missionary in Cameroon with his wife Joan, talks about the Kwanja world there. And the Kwanja are some of the folks they’ve worked with over the years and how their world is much more like Mary and Joseph’s world than our world, too. So he tells this story. Our son Nathan has his birthday on December 23. So one year we invited a few friends, he puts in quotes, and it says, more than 50 came. But that’s another story. And I have been there, my friend. And so they came. And Martin says, I told them this Christmas story. As I did. It struck me that what happened to Jesus’ parents could easily happen in Yimbury here in Cameroon. Government orders a census, no questions asked. You go where they say. When they say. No vehicles, you walk. Maybe one donkey if you’re lucky. 


38:37
Rich Rudowske
The distance Nazareth to Bethlehem is similar to the distance to the divisional headquarters north of Yimbury. A logical place to demand a census. Getting there requires some days on the road. Mary is very pregnant. Joseph is very concerned getting there. The town is full of people. No surprise Bethlehem would be the ancestral home for many people. Place to sleep? Nope. Okay. You go in that cave, stable, midwife maybe. But right there was born the only Son of God. God chose that place, those circumstances, because incarnation had to have him come all the way down to the level of ordinary people. 


39:21
Emily Wilson
I love that he has been able to draw so many connections and how powerful that is to the community because not everyone who showed up was probably Christian. Right. And being able to bring it into a wait, this is really relatable. 


39:38
Rich Rudowske
Yeah. You know how this. Yeah. And just his, I mean, Jesus was not born in a palace. So somehow Joseph is related to David. But I mean, he’s not the guy in that line somehow because he’s not powerful or reigning on anyone’s…he’s… he’s just a normal guy. And Jesus is just born in these really unusual but very humble and maybe even normal circumstances. I think we think of it as unusual, but maybe it’s not. For most of the world and most of history, these are the ways things are. People who have power tell you to do something, you go and do it. And in the midst of that, here comes God to say the Gospel is going to have the last word here, right? 


40:29
Emily Wilson
That it’s the incarnation of more than just this humanity, but the incarnation and redeeming of all these facets of life, the very human experience of not only living and breathing and eating and sleeping, but also being under… What does it mean to be under government? What does it mean to be under a father and mother and all of these things that he experienced and did perfectly and that he redeemed it. We can’t do it, but he did it for us. Just so powerful, so empowering too as a Christ follower to share that with others that people who don’t know, they think that it’s a faith for a lofty life and that you have to be a certain way all of the time, that no, Jesus entered into the mess, the everyday and redeeming just, I get excited. 


41:36
Rich Rudowske
So true. 


41:37
Emily Wilson
Yeah. So thinking about from the, you know, they were hearing this Christmas story maybe for the first time. And similarly, Jim Laesch shares a story about the Grebo people in Liberia and how they were hearing this story in a new way, maybe for the first time, some of the people in the village, but really the ownership that came with it of how do we not only see this as a story long time ago, but really a story for us and how it relates to our culture, our time, our values? 


42:23
Jim Laesch
He is one of us. Luke 27 in northern Grebo of Liberia. Okona Onisaju Amoa Jibajuju Afifiea Ojupurudaro Apana Mondi Barakum, Wabu. She birthed her firstborn, a boy child. She wrapped him with a newborn cloth, and then she laid him in the animal feedbox. Newborn Cloth is a Grebo tradition. After birth, the midwife cuts and ties the cord, washes the newborn baby, and then uses a clean cloth prepared for the newborn, wrapping him or her lovingly and handing him to mother. The word ‘nisaju’ is a special Grebo word meaning firstborn child. Being ‘nisaju’ is unique and a highly cherished position. When the Grebo person hears the words, dupludalo’, newborn cloth, and ‘nisaju’, firstborn, it creates a very clear picture that this child was born in a humble and a true Grebo way. People will proclaim, “He is one of us!” 


43:36
Jim Laesch
And that is the main idea of Christmas. 


43:40
Rich Rudowske
So true. Some of the most powerful words of the Christmas story is, “Unto you, this day in the city of David, a Savior has been born.” And I said, ‘unto you’, which is King James, but ‘for you’ or ‘your savior’, that taking that pronoun and saying, this didn’t just happen, but happened for you. And I love the way that the Grebo translation personalizes that for people, that in every culture, the Gospel message is essentially translatable, if we can use that term. But that is the whole point, is that it is God who created and then redeems all of these cultures and most of the world’s history. When they think of what is out there and who do we relate to? Their concept of a greater being or a God is somebody that’s just local there or for them. 


44:38
Rich Rudowske
And throughout the scriptures, the Lord God claims to be God of the entire world, and then he doesn’t just come and claim that kingship. By forcing you to go his way, he allows the translation and the incarnation of the message to also say, he’s one of us, and he’s always been one of us. We are his people. 


45:00
Emily Wilson
The word made flesh. Right? And that is exactly what Rhoda Houge shares in her Christmas story. So this is the retelling of a very special Christmas for her. Reverend Claude and Rhoda Houge served in Africa for 23 years. One of the most memorable experiences happened during the Christmas season in a village in northern Ghana. The village had a nativity scene, said Rhoda, complete with Mary and Joseph and a few animals. But the manger was empty. I couldn’t imagine who or what was going to fill the role of baby Jesus. There were no babies that I could see, and dolls were rare. Much to her surprise, though, the girl playing Mary reached behind her back and pulled out a Bible. She placed the book in the manger. 


45:51
Emily Wilson
It was moving to see how much was placed on Scripture, that this book would be used to represent Jesus and how insightful Jesus is. The word. What could be more appropriate than putting a Bible in the manger to represent the Savior of the world? 


46:08
Rich Rudowske
I love it. The word made flesh, when that word speaks. And working in a Bible translation ministry, ultimately, of course, we don’t worship the Bible. It’s the Christ that the Bible testifies to. Yet there’s something very close and powerful between that proclaimed word and who it points to and the fact that word is powerful, it acts and it moves. And so what a lovely representation of this is the savior of the world, or the savior of the world is found here, right? 


46:45
Alvina Federwitz
Yeah. 


46:45
Emily Wilson
The foundation of our faith is reading His Word and how we can grow and that we’re just on this daily journey of walking alongside each other, but that God is leading us and that, like you said, that it’s found in the words of scripture that we are able to know truth and that it will set us free. 


47:13
Rich Rudowske
And we’ve got the privilege of working in this ministry, of working as missionaries and with partners in the local context. Folks, that God has, there’s a different story for every person, right? I mean, God has raised up. They may already be part of a church that is formed, that is seeking to know God more and more deeply by access to the word of God. It may be part of a group that isn’t Christian yet, but somebody knows the language well and says, I want to help do this. And in that process, the Word of God, being active, transforms their lives, and they come to know the true and living God. It could be. There are some places in the world where Bible translation is happening, where persecution still happens of Christians. And again, that is really the Christian experience throughout most of the world. 


48:05
Rich Rudowske
We grew up in and we come from a European context, ancestrally, many of us listening even, as well, where Christianity has had a place of power and privilege for a long time. But most of the world, through the history of the church, hasn’t experienced that. The church does not need to have that power and that prestige for the Gospel to go forth. In fact, it seems like it may go forth even more effectively when that’s not the case. And so, even today, as folks are listening to this podcast, there are Christians at work in the world sharing the Good News in situations that are dangerous and desperate, and we want to share one of those stories from one of our contexts about a guy who will call for safety purposes. 


48:52
Rich Rudowske
Pastor Santi. Pastor Santi has been an integral part of our project’s literacy and scripture engagement program over the last several years. Toward the end of 2017, our team had asked him to help with a Gospel film dubbing project into the Kohn language, and Kohn is a pseudonym for the language, again for purposes of safety. And he was to read the part of Abraham in three short Bible story videos from the series called God provides. Since Pastor Santi came to faith, he’s been used by God to plant and disciple several churches in his home province in the country where we work, including a number of house churches, among other tribal groups. 


49:29
Rich Rudowske
In December 2017, after completing the audio recordings in our studio for two of the God provides videos, he was asked by a group of those house churches to come and preach for a village Christmas celebration in another district. He agreed to come and preach, but reminded the villagers that they would need to get permission from local authorities to do this. They assured him they would take the necessary steps. Just a week or so before the celebration, he finished his part on the second film, and we saw him at a Christmas service at a house church near our home. He preached a beautiful message about our Savior, Jesus, emphasizing the fact that Jesus had been willing to come from heaven to be born into the middle of the refuse of humanity. 


50:10
Rich Rudowske
The word in the national language that’s prefixed to a number of verbs indicating various vices and bad habits is key. This happens to be the same word as dung. Pastor Santi recalled how Christ had been willing to be born in an animal pen, which local people easily understand, to be full of the smell of dung and the like. He explained how Jesus was not only willing to do this, but to be born into the midst of our various human vices and failings, to save us from them and the punishment that we deserve. It was for this purpose, the purpose of lifting us out of the dung of our sins, that he came into the world. A week after we saw him there, he went up to the hill village, where the Christmas celebration was to take place. 


50:54
Rich Rudowske
The village believers had also invited a team to show a Christmas film, or Christian film, in the national language prior to his arrival, and a large crowd had gathered. But someone in the village had complained to the authorities, and when it was asked whether they had secured proper permission to carry out this Christmas celebration, it turned out that they hadn’t. So shortly after Pastor Santi arrived, before he even had the opportunity to preach his Christmas message, he was accused, along with the film team, of breaking the law. He and the film team were taken into custody and sent to the district police station, and later that evening to the provincial jail. 


51:29
Rich Rudowske
While the authorities investigated and sorted the matter out late at night on what would have been Christmas Eve, instead of preaching a message to encourage these young believers in their faith about all that Christ had done for them, he found himself being put into a holding cell with drug addicts, thieves, brawlers, and sex offenders at the provincial lockup. There was hardly any space on the hard floor to find room to lay down. It was cold, and he had no blanket. He worried about his wife and what she would do when he didn’t come home and found out that he was in jail for preaching the Gospel. He didn’t know what exactly the charges would be or how long it might take to work through this misunderstanding. He started to despair about the situation he found himself caught in. 


52:13
Rich Rudowske
He lay curled up on the hard floor, awake with these worries swirling through his mind, smelled the urine and feces of the cell’s common commode, and began feeling sorry for himself and asking God why. But at that moment, he recalled that on Christmas Eve, his Savior Jesus had been born in very uncomfortable circumstances, probably less comfortable even than his current state, and that Jesus had been willing to do this for him and all the dung of humanity, even the lawbreakers laying around him and those who had taken him captive. He felt a strong impression that the Lord was saying to him, I was born into an animal pen for you and all these people tonight, your plan was to preach in the village, but my plan for you here is share the Good News you have with them, even your captors. 


53:01
Rich Rudowske
As morning broke, Pastor Santi took heart in these words that God had a purpose for him being in that jail. As the various inmates stirred awake and saw their new guests, they greeted him and asked what he was in for. He answered that he was in there because he put his faith in God and in his Savior Jesus Christ, and that there was a misunderstanding about celebrating Jesus’ birth having sparked their interest they began to ask him what all that meant, and he explained who Jesus was and how Jesus had called him out of a life of drunkenness and womanizing many years earlier to come and follow him and to trust him for the forgiveness of his sins. 


53:35
Rich Rudowske
The other captors listened with sincere intent as he shared his life story and the story of how Jesus had accomplished the world’s salvation through his birth, life, death on a cross, and resurrection from the dead. As the morning went on, the authorities came to the cell to summon him for questioning. Though he was nervous about how to answer, suddenly God gave him a boldness that he should just tell them the truth. In the interrogation room, the lead police officer asked him pointedly, “Why are you a Christian? What did Jesus do for you?” Perhaps thinking that he was benefiting from this work of telling people about God by getting a salary or some other compensation. But Pastor Santi, with new courage, began to tell his interrogators his testimony. 


54:17
Rich Rudowske
A number of years ago, after leading a life of excess, I had gotten sick and had thought I was going to die. A man from a nearby village came to our village to share the good news about Jesus’life, death, and resurrection. I had nowhere else to turn for help or healing. So when I heard these things, I began to think that maybe Jesus could help me, not only to heal me from my sickness, but to change my life and to clean me up. Pastor Santi told the officers that he had been given the opportunity by the man to become a Christian by trusting in Jesus, and he had decided to give Jesus his life. I asked God to clean me up so that I could have a new life. When that man prayed for me to be healed, I was healed. 


54:57
Rich Rudowske
God not only healed my body, but he forgave my sins and changed my life, making me new. Pastor Santi later reflected, I wasn’t afraid because I was telling the police the true story of what Jesus had done in my life. The spirit helped me stay strong, speak truth, and not be afraid. I saw clearly as they listened to my words attentively that it was God’s plan for me to share with these police officers. Though it took a month of time in jail to work out his case, Pastor Santi had several other opportunities to share about God’s love in Jesus, both with the other inmates as well as with the police, Christians around the world helped with a gift to pay a sizable fine that was assessed for him and the film team, and in the end they were all released. 


55:37
Rich Rudowske
But not before the seeds of the Gospel were planted in many new hearts. 


55:42
Emily Wilson
Wow, I love this story so much. But I also, as I’m listening and reflecting, I just wonder at the power of the Holy Spirit to change that fear into a boldness. Because when he asks why, I think that I would probably be more than just why, I would probably be a little angry, not at just the circumstance, but also why hadn’t they gotten the permit, why God, why? And a little anger. But the beauty here of a life transformed by the gospel and how he took this situation and glorified God. Just so beautiful. 


56:36
Rich Rudowske
And the way that the Holy Spirit prepared his heart by the message he had already been proclaiming. And then all of a sudden, these images and things he is using to describe Jesus coming into the world, now he’s sitting literally in them, and the Holy Spirit brings them to his mind to say, this is why. And just this part where he says, I began to think that maybe Jesus could help me. I mean, that is what Christmas is all about and what the gospel is all about. If anyone listening to this podcast is also wondering, can Jesus help me? The answer is yes. And he shows that in Jesus becoming man. I mean, that is what Christmas is all about. The incarnation is God saying, jesus can help you and whatever it takes, whatever we have to go through. 


57:32
Rich Rudowske
This man spent a month in jail and like a modern day book of Acts story, he spread the Gospel and sent a whole bunch of other people out with it. That’s a Christmas to remember. That is a different Christmas. 


57:48
Emily Wilson
Exactly. And how maybe we haven’t found ourselves in a prison cell, but maybe in some other situation that has tested us and we feel drained and we’re at the bottom. And how God has reached out and lifts us up and has wonderful, beautiful plans for us, that maybe it’s going to look different for each one of us, but ultimately it’s a relationship with him and how we’ve been called to not only that, but then to share that with others. That it’s not a light to hide under a basket and it’s not a cold drink of water to keep to ourselves, but to pass that along. 


58:39
Emily Wilson
And just the beauty of that this Christmas season, that even in spite of the situations that we find ourselves in, that he is above all and through all, and that he has a plan for each and every one of us. 


58:57
Rich Rudowske
Yeah, it can be so easy. Again, I’m thinking more from just our own culture, western culture, to lose sight of the fact that no matter what’s going on right now, it’s not like God forgot about us, right? I doubt anybody listening here is listening or has recently spent time in a prison cell on Christmas for preaching the gospel. I mean, those three things together kind of exclude most of us, but you may be feeling imprisoned by something. The pandemic may have made you feel imprisoned this year, that you can’t go and see the people and do the things that you would normally do and be with folks. I know a lot of folks that have lost loved ones because of the pandemic or just circumstances that were affected by it. God is still in all these things, and it’s so easy to blame. 


01:00:04
Rich Rudowske
Like when Pastor Santi was asking God why? And you mentioned, well, he could very easily have been saying, why didn’t people do their jobs and whatever. But every circumstance we’re in has the potential to be redeemed at some point. And God can work through it. 


01:00:22
Emily Wilson
Absolutely. And like you said, right, in that situation, even in the prison cell, he had the opportunity to share the gospel and he took it. And like you said, like the modern day Acts story, and we take courage from those stories of the faith, of men and women who stood by the power of the Holy Spirit. Right. It’s not our own strength, but trusting that there is, in fact, good to come out of every circumstance that God places in our lives that we can be just a witness to his. 


01:01:15
Rich Rudowske
Yeah, I think that’s really what Christmas is all about. You think about Linus and his blanket. Christmas is all about God saying the way things normally go, I have something better than that. And whatever sin or hurt or pain or problem or addiction or broken relationship, none of those things can have the last word. The Gospel has the last word. And that’s why it’s a privilege to, well, first of all, to just be called in faith and to follow the Lord, but also to work in mission and to share the good news with others as well. 


01:01:55
Rich Rudowske
I hope that as you listen and reflect on whatever that you’re listening to this, if it’s still Christmas break, Christmas Eve, that no matter what, because Christmas and the incarnation is really a 365 or in 2020, where we had an extra day, 366 day a year thing, a reality, right, that God became man, changed the course of the universe forever. And we’re thankful for the privilege to work together with our partners around the world to take this gospel, to review it again, to think through how to speak it again, how to really reflect that Jesus is one of us, how to focus on parts of the scripture that speak to different cultural things and recognize that the Gospel is for all humanity, not bound to any culture yet at home in every single one of them. 


01:02:52
Emily Wilson
We’re so thankful for all of you who have decided to join us on this Christmas special, and we are so very thankful for your prayers and your support and love to hear your stories too. So please feel free to reach out and share that Christmas joy. And we from all of LBT, from our missionaries, our staff, and our partners want to wish you a very merry and blessed Christmas. 


01:03:27
Rich Rudowske
Thanks to all our missionaries, partners, and staff who submitted their Christmas stories for this podcast episode. For you, our listeners, we pray it was a blessing to you and thank you for the privilege of sharing a little bit of our collective lives with you from each and every one of us at LBT, missionary staff and partners around the world. May God give you a most joyous Christmas and a blessed new year. Thank you for listening to the Essentially Translatable podcast brought to you by Lutheran Bible translators. Look for past episodes of the podcast lbt.org/podcast or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Follow Lutheran Bible Translators social media channels on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. 


01:04:12
Rich Rudowske
Or go to lbt.org to find out how you can get involved in the Bible translation movement and put God’s Word in their hands. This episode of the Essentially Translatable podcast was written and directed by Emily Wilson and distributed by Sarah Lyons. Technical support for this episode was provided by Caleb Rodewald. Our super talented editor and producer is Andrew Olson. Executive producer is Amy Gertz. That festive Christmas podcast artwork was designed by Caleb Rodewald. Music written and performed by Rob Veith. I’m your host, Rich Rudowske. So long for now. 

Highlights:

  • Hear from different LBT missionaries around the world
  • Guests reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and how it relates to their faith
  • In the season fellowship, these stories highlight themes such as love, joy, gratitude for God’s gift of Jesus Christ, and the power of sharing the gospel message even in challenging circumstances

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