THE HAPPIEST CHRISTMAS EVER

by David Sisler

Television took a long time to reach 117 Shenandoah Avenue in Loch Lynn, Maryland, so for many years I watched radio. I especially remember the morning show on KDKA, Pittsburgh. It featured an imaginative host who entertained us with, among other things, the adventures of two Martians, Omicron and Kordicron. Omicron and Kordicron looked very much like hard-boiled eggs, and sounded like Tiny Tim sucking helium. One time an inebriated Omicron fell into Easter egg dye and became permanently purple. That image is as sharp and clear in my mind as anything ever recorded on VHS or DVD.

In this day of video cassette and digital movies, technology does most of our imagining for us. But for just a few moments, imagine that it is Christmas and you have received one present. You are not like Dennis the Menace staring out from a pile of toys knee deep and asking, as my Mom swears I did on Christmas Day, 1956, "Is this all?" You have only one present, a brightly wrapped shoe box. Inside the shoe box is candy, shampoo, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a coloring book and crayons, and some small toys. Now imagine that you tell the person who gave you this gift, "This was the happiest Christmas in my life!"

Hold that image.

On January 5, fifteen of us left Augusta and Tampa and traveled to my second home, Samara, Russia, to take Christmas presents to orphans there. We visited children from seven Detski Doms (children's homes) in Samara, and while there was little variety, and almost no "extras," they have the essentials warm housing, nourishing food, and quality supervision. However in Ekaterinburg, in the Ural Mountains, where part of the team spent four days, hunger is held off only by bowls of kasha (rice porridge) three times a day.

The Detski Doms are usually called orphanages, but as Miss Tamara Tulkina, director of Detski Dom Number 1 in Samara, told us, 60 percent of the kids have parents. With Russia suffering through another economic crisis, many parents have asked the staff to take their children in and care for them, because the parents are no longer financially able to do so. Other children were taken from homes where they had been used as punching bags and/or sexual toys, and placed into a safe environment. Still other kids were simply abandoned by their parents. Two members of our team met a pair of brothers, one three years old and the other five, who were abandoned at the train station, by their mother, on Christmas Eve.

On our last day in Samara, we were standing in the snow at the railway station, saying our good-byes, wrapping up 9 exciting days of ministry. A few minutes before the Zhiguli Train pulled out for Moscow, four teenage Russian girls from Detski Dom 1 handed me a letter to share with the group (and that is where the scene I asked you to imagine becomes reality).

The letter said, in part, "Thank you for everything you have done for us! We will always remember you! This was the happiest Christmas in our lives! Thank you! We are sorry that you have to go, but you will always live in our memories."

We took 70 shipping cartons filled with more than 600 Christmas Shoe Boxes, as well as sheets, blankets and pillow cases for the 120 beds of Detski Dom 1. One of the workers said the Christmas presents made "the children's faces shine as a small sun." We were privileged to be on the scene and share that excitement first hand, but we could not have done it without the generosity of dozens of businesses, scores of churches, and hundreds of people in the local area.

Bill Woodward, the missions director of Maranatha Christian Center, was with me on this trip, as he has been on eight previous missions. He brought a red suit, trimmed with white and assumed the guise of "Ded Moroz," Russia's Santa Claus, and passed out presents to the children. Last week Bill launched his own ministry to Russia. He will help raise money for a growing church in Moscow so they can purchase an old movie theater and use it as a worship center. He will then direct the remodeling program. Wherever it takes you, old friend, God bless and God speed!

And to the multitude of people who helped offset the cost of the mission, who shopped and made shoe boxes, who compiled the inventory, and who prayed especially those who prayed I pass along to you, the thanks of the Russian kids. For them, for my fellow travelers, for me, because of you, this was the best Christmas ever!

-30-

Published in the Augusta Chronicle 1/30/99

Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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