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A letter from Marta Bennett in Kenya

December 28, 2009

Christmas in Nairobi. While we hear about snowstorms in the United States, Nairobi is hot and dry, but with intermittent thunder, lightning and rain showers.  Much of the city’s population has gone “upcountry,” i.e., out of the city to family land for reunions and eating to celebrate the month of December.

The kids and I hosted our annual “Nairobi-ites in exile” Christmas Eve gathering, a time of food, singing Christmas carols, telling stories, and having a birthday cake for Jesus, for any and all who do not have their own families to join.  This year there were 12 of us (a smaller group this year), half Kenyans and the rest representing the United States, Canada, the Democratic Republic of Congo, France and Russia.

Christmas in Kenya. Our students at NIST (Nairobi International School of Theology) staged a drama about Christmas during one of the last chapels of the term, with one of our faculty members playing the role of an old wise man — not one of the three, but an old man who had been living in Bethlehem at the time the Christmas events had happened. Now, 2000-plus years later, he came from Bethlehem to reflect back on those events, watching all the pilgrims coming to register in the city of David, including both rich and poor, until inns were overflowing. One poor couple even stayed in the stable next to his home, and a baby was born. Then those unkempt, unruly shepherds came barging in, followed some time later by royalty — before Herod’s soldiers came slashing and smashing property, killing all the boy infants. The wonder and realism of God’s work in history was unfolded as the Bethlehem wise man recited his memories.

In between each scene were vignettes of how the same event has been relived down through the centuries in many different cultures — specifically African cultures. Our Ethiopian students came in dancing, then enacted the traditional coffee ceremonies, including serving all faculty members strong coffee and traditional breads. For Nigeria, then for the DRC, families and churches were dancing and singing, preaching and praising all throughout Christmas. For Kenya we were taken “upcountry,” with the mama in her headscarf and kanga, cooking up a storm, and the children tugging at her wrap, begging for a bite of this and that, until the hip son from Nairobi comes in saggin’, with his iPod headphones in his ears, backpack slung over one shoulder, singing and rapping all the way in, about the true meaning of Christmas, that Jesus Christ came for us all.

Christmas around the world. Many different expressions, many different ways of eating, remembering and celebrating, but all telling the same story, of a remarkable night two millennia ago, when the universe shifted and God’s son entered his own creation as one of us. Through that birth and the life that followed he offered his life for a chance at new life, reclaiming what was already his, to ultimately restore it, to open the way to what he had intended from before the beginning.

God rest you everyone; God fill you with peace and joy, with love that comes purely from the center of his very heart.

Marta Bennett


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