Doug & Liz Searles - China
Doug prompted her: "So, if you were traveling a long distance, you would take . . . . . ??" She responded with one word. "Gifts," she said.
Here in Chengdu, China, Doug has a class of students who hope to use their English as tour guides. He took in a huge inflatable globe the other day, and they talked about different countries and about travel in general. Asked where they would like to travel if they had the chance, our students usually respond with the name of a much-touted scenic spot in China: “Guilin!” they’ll shout, or “Xishuangbanna!” or “Lugu Lake!”
Later in the class, Doug said: “So! You’re going on a trip. You’re going to travel somewhere and be gone for a few weeks. What will you pack first? There was a long silence. Doug had expected quick responses with common items: “A toothbrush,” or “shampoo,” or “warm clothes,” or “a book to read on the train.” But the silence continued, so Doug waited to see what they would come up with.
After he’d mentally counted to 30, one brave young woman finally raised her hand hesitantly. Doug prompted her: “So, if you were traveling a long distance, you would take . . . . . ??” She responded with one word. “Gifts,” she said.
“Gifts.” The first thing to bring on a journey. Not your passport or your train ticket; not your money or an extra duffel for all the souvenirs you’ll buy; not your toothbrush, or a book to read on the train, but gifts.
Hers was a wise response today in China, where the process of gifting has been raised to a high art, and it was the wise forethought of three travelers from the east just over 2000 years ago. We don’t hear about other stuff those three brought. Surely they weren’t traveling as light as they’re often pictured: astride tassled camels, outlined against the midnight blue Bethlehem sky, with the guiding star at the top of the picture. They probably had an entourage of some sort to carry the basics—food, camel fodder, warm clothes, perhaps tents and bedding. But we hear only that they brought gifts.
Everyone in China knows about giving gifts at Christmas, and the holiday is becoming popular here for secular celebration, Santa decorations, and gift exchange. Department stores love promoting the season, of course.
Yet the gift of the first Christmas, given to a world wandering in darkness by that Traveler from the Realms of Light, is unknown to many. It’s the gift we “packed first” when we left the U.S. for China, and it’s the only gift worth much at Christmas, really. The rest is just “secular celebration, decoration, and gift exchange.” Fun, yes. Meaningful, sometimes. Beautiful, often. But nowhere as significant, lasting or real as God’s gift of Love, come down to earth at Christmas.
“Gifts.” As you travel through this Christmas season, don’t forget to pack God’s gift in your own heart first, ready to share with others. Without it, nothing else you give or receive will mean a thing.
Doug, Liz, Mackenzie & Mickey