24th February 2020

Cameroon: A Simple Christmas Story

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Born at the wrong time?

It seemed to Charley that the people around him in the church were singing rather loud and joyfully.  Maybe this was always like that at the end of the Christmas midnight Mass.  The song in the vernacular had very meaningful words, and the beat of the drums could turn a heart of stone into flesh.  But… Charley couldn’t join in the singing this night.  It was all so strange for him.  He was, for the first time in his short life, the only member of his family at the Christmas midnight Mass.  He missed his mother and sister who both got killed in that terrible car accident on their way to Kumba a few months ago.  Agnes was going for the first time to a boarding school and mother escorted her – but Aggie [as he used to call her] never saw that school.  Ever since that day things had changed.  All his brothers and sisters were taken to different members of the family – quite some distance apart.  His father was not only old; he was also a staunch pagan.  He didn’t bother to go to church or to pray.  Charley’s home was so different now.  He missed the pleasant moments in the evening, when all sat round mother to say their evening prayers and when she read from the Bible.

Vaguely it occurred to him that the song would soon be finished.  After it he wanted to go to the front of the church to greet Jesus in his little Bethlehem, just as he had done last year with his mother and Agnes.  He realised that it wasn’t going to be an easy job.  The grown-up people, he expected, would be pushing again.  And so, they did.  Again, and again he was pressed aside, and eventually he gave up and went to the back of the church.  There he climbed on top of a bench, looked in the direction of the small Bethlehem and said: “Jesus, I too want to come and welcome you, but they won’t let me.  Don’t worry, I will come in the afternoon when those big people are eating and drinking.  And Charley left lonely.

The sun was high in the sky and it was hot when, with a light squeak, the church door opened and in came Charley.  Whilst he was moving toward the nativity scene he was talking to Jesus: “Didn’t I tell you last night… your whole church is empty.  Nobody thinks about you right now.  Just now, all big people think only about themselves, their food and their ‘mimbo’ (drink).  But never mind; they need you all the same.”  He reached the crib and talked happily and freely to Mary, to Joseph, and with the angel hanging at a rusty nail.  Suddenly there was a big change.  His face got very sad and tears rolled down his cheeks.

The parish priest, who sat quietly praying in the corner of the church, had noticed the sudden sadness of the boy and went to him, and asked: “Charley, why are you so sad?”  “I”, Charley said, “I was born at the wrong time.”  He pointed at one of the shepherd boys: “You see that boy?  He is happy, and rightly so.  He was allowed to meet Jesus as a real baby.  But I, I see only these figures.”  “Charley”, the priest asked, “were you in the midnight Mass?”  “Surely”, he said, “I was.  And I did not get a chance to come to the place where we are standing now because of all those pushing big people.”  “Charley, did you go to Communion,” the priest asked.  “Of course,” said Charley, “I did”.  “Well, Charley”, said the parish priest with a kind and fatherly voice, “Then you received the real Jesus in your heart.  You, I’m sure, were born at the correct time!  Jesus is in your heart; He is always with you.  This poor shepherd boy could look at Jesus only for a short time and then had to go back to look after his sheep.  But you, even when you leave the church, Jesus is still in your heart, He is still with you!”  These words cheered the boy up and his eyes got that sparkle again of real happiness.  He thanked the parish priest and left the church joyfully.

Huub Welters mhm

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