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Some thoughts at Christmas

Every year around now, Time Magazine or Maclean’s Magazine or some other publication will feature a sensational story on the Christian religion. Did Jesus exist? Did Jesus marry? Was the Christian story cooked up by his disciples? That last one is strange; do you know of anyone would make up a story in order to get themselves killed? And of course, there are the usual stories about religion, specifically Christianity, creating many of the world’s major problems.

Here’s the other side of the story.

Last week, we attended a Christmas concert put on by the L’Arche community in Calgary. L’Arche is a worldwide organization that provides community to people with varying kinds of developmental disabilities. It was founded 45 years ago, by Jean Vanier, a conservative Catholic, who said: “We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.”

Here, in part, is a letter that I wrote to my cousin, who is a director at L’Arche Calgary.

We thoroughly enjoyed the program the other night. It reminded us of those old-fashioned Christmases that we used to participate in when we were kids, and I must also say that the people at L’Arche are always great fun and inspiring to visit with. The idea that they  should be sidelined or discarded is appalling on the face of it, but to do so would also be a tremendous loss to society. L’Arche is what Christianity does.

The latest issue of Christianity Today has an article on the Rendille tribe in northern Kenya. Over the past 30 years it has become largely Christian and now has the Bible and other literature translated into their own language. Rendille Pastor David Gargule explained what it means to them. “No child marriages. No female circumcisions. Give every child equal rights. Give a girl equal rights with boys.” That’s what Christianity does.

As you know, in the 1950s and 60s, our aunt Merle was a missionary’s wife, living first in South Africa, and then in what is now Harare, Zimbabwe. While she was in Harare, her father, our grandfather, died. It was 1962 and there was no way for her to return to Saskatchewan for the funeral, or of course, to Skype. It was a very sad time for her.

Two or three times over the years she had told me the story of her houseboy – that’s what they called male house staff back then – who saw that she was sad and treated her even more kindly than usual. One one occasion when he had brought her a cup of tea, she asked him why he treated her with such kindness. He said: “Madam, I love missionaries. I was born the second of twins, and before the missionaries came, the second born twin was always left on the riverbank for the crocodiles to eat. If it wasn’t for the missionaries I wouldn’t be here.” That’s what Christianity does.

At Christmas we usually think of the Salvation Army, but of course they, and World Vision, and Samaritan’s Purse, and L’Arche, and countless other Christian organizations do God’s work, all year round. Recently, the Nobel Peace Prize went to Denis Mukwege, a Congolese doctor, who, inspired by his Christian faith, founded a hospital to help rape victims. Tens of thousands of them. That’s what Christianity does.

There are many more examples of the good things that Christianity does, but I’ll give the last word to Africa hand, Matthew Parris, who a few years ago wrote an article in The Times of London with the headline: “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God.” He was talking about the Christian God.

Terrible things have been done in the name of Christianity, but that’s not Christianity. True Christianity changes us, and thereby the world. For the better. Always.

** Feel free to forward this or use the stories as you wish.

Have a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Dave and Meritha