The first Christmas Steve and I were married, we started a couple traditions that we’ve continued every year since. We decided to extend hospitality to at least one lonely person and attend at least one cultural event every Christmas season. Over the years, the recipients of our welcome have included internationals from such countries as Hungary, Vietnam, Japan, Brazil, Kenya, and Ethiopia. This year, we’ve invited an elderly widow, a couple caring for a sick father, and a single woman recently returned from 20 years abroad as dinner guests.
For cultural events this Christmas, we’ve been to several concerts – at the youth prison where Steve serves, the university where I work, and a Romanian one. The mayor of the nearby town where a Romanian Baptist church is located asked the choir to give a concert in a public venue. They said yes, provided they would be allowed to share the gospel message. The a cappella music was breathtaking, and yes, the gospel message was clear and piercing. The Romanian pastor even talked about carolers in the days of Communist persecution risking it all to go door-to-door spreading the news of Jesus through song.
He also shared their deep love and appreciation for America, grateful for the sacrifice of American missionaries stepping out of our comfort zones to come to them and tell their people about Christ. Our country became a safe haven for those defecting and seeking asylum during the dark days. In humility, these Romanian expatriates want to honor and give back to America. Thinking of other immigrants who arrive on our shores with a chip firmly in place on their shoulders, wanting to take all that they can, I find it refreshing. They are giving back in the best possible way: by helping to reach our country for Christ.
I knew the concert was free. And I knew that the essence of the Romanian character is hospitality and generosity. But I wasn’t quite prepared for the huge and delicious spread, all kinds of food and desserts, that followed the concert. Richer than the food was the fellowship with my new Romanian friends, something that I didn’t have and longed for in California.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard the angelic tones of Romanian Christmas music. It was my first Christmas overseas. My team had been stuck in the Bucharest airport for a couple days. Finally we were able to get out and join our fellow short-term missionaries at a Christmas retreat in Switzerland. There I chose for my wrapped Christmas gift something the Czech team had bought in Prague, a cassette tape of Romanian Christmas carols that was not available anywhere in Romania. After my team leader’s skiing accident, my team had to stay on an extra week to wait for his stitches to come out. It was one of the most refreshing weeks of my life. I slept late every morning, nestled under my thick down comforter, snug in a snowbound house in the Black Forest region of Germany. I listened to that cassette tape over and over. It was the most beautiful music I had ever heard, and God used it to cement the decision I had just made and communicated at the retreat – that I would stay on in Romania for a long-term assignment.
And this year I got to hear that music again. Glorious!