In the West, Christmas has become a symbol of excess. For most Christians in other times and places, however, Christmas has been a reminder that God came down to meet each one of us at our point of need.
The following Christmas testimonies are from some of our Assemblies of God saints who blazed the trail that we now tread. Listen to how they celebrated Christmas, compare it with your own celebrations, then reflect about how God met each one of these dear saints at the point of their need. You will see that God didn’t always meet needs with provisions; sometimes He provided lessons.
C. M. Ward was the voice of the Revivaltime radio broadcast from 1953 to 1978. He and his fiancée, Dorothy, set their wedding date for Christmas Day, 1929. Of course, one month before their wedding, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Ward couldn’t afford to buy a wedding ring, much less presents, for their first Christmas. He later learned that times of deprivation like this birthed one of two things: either desperation or despair. Desperation spurred people to work hard and be creative, while despair caused people to simply give up.
Daniel W. Kerr was the primary author of the 1916 Statement of Fundamental Truths. One of the early parsonages he and his family lived in was actually an abandoned log chicken house that Kerr made into living quarters. One Christmas, his two children each received one penny in their stockings. And for Christmas dinner — they boiled potatoes. With our material prosperity, we sometimes forget that many go without. When God does provide for our needs, but not our wants, do we express gratitude or do we grumble?
John Kolenda was a German District pastor and missionary to Brazil. His daughter, Graceann, recalled that “Dad always practiced and taught us to put God first, others second, and ourselves last.” She explained that, to her and her young sibling, “This seemed entirely wrong.” Two days before Christmas, Kolenda took his children aside and said that — absent a miracle — there would be no Christmas presents that year. After providing for the needy children in the Sunday school and for other people, he explained, there was nothing left to give his own children. Graceann recalled that her parents prayed in an unusually fervent manner that evening. The next day an unexpected check arrived in the mail, which provided for a memorable Christmas. When the situation seems hopeless — do we still pray to God to intervene?
Elizabeth Galley Wilson, a single female missionary, arrived in China in 1939 just before the outbreak of World War II. She wrote that she learned two things during her first Christmas in Peking. The first lesson was how lonely it could be in a foreign country without family, friends, or the traditional Christmas turkey or gifts. She got together with several other single female missionaries from other denominations, they ate, and Elizabeth distributed Christmas stockings to each of them. The second thing she learned, as she put it, was “that the Christ of Christmas can bring peace and dispel darkness as we seek Him in times like these.” Several years later, she became a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines. That Christmas, while in the internment camp, those little Christmas stockings that she made in Peking became the Christmas gift for the son of another missionary who was a fellow prisoner of war. Elizabeth’s testimony teaches us that seeking God during a struggle can “bring peace and dispel darkness.” Furthermore, just as the Christmas stockings were re-used to bring joy to the child who was a prisoner of war, we cannot begin to imagine how the good — or bad — things we do today might end up impacting others.
Esther Mae Cooper — also a single female — was a musical evangelist who ministered to servicemen. She described how she spent Christmas of 1942 on board a ship destined for Alaska. She was seasick, lonely, and bereft of her family and friends. She wrote the following: “Christmas morning I was awakened by the splashing of the waves against the ship. It was a peculiar sensation that I had when I realized I was spending my first Christmas away from home. I am ashamed of my first thoughts — Christmas morning, away from home, at sea, no friends. Merry Christmas! My heart sank! But again the voice of the Lord reassured me, ‘Lo, I am with you always!’” Esther Mae determined to make the best of the situation, and in her morning devotions she prayed, “make me a blessing all day and help me to spread cheer and sunshine.” This testimony reminds us that we can have confidence that God is always with us, particularly at our point of need. Because of this assurance, we can decide to be joyful and bless others, in spite of our circumstances.
Scholars employ a German word — Heilsgeschichte, meaning “salvation history” — to describe testimonies like these. The story of how God works among us is holy history. And this Christmas we are celebrating the central point in this holy history — the birth of Jesus, who is Immanuel, “God with us,” and who meets us in our weakness and in our poverty.
By Darrin J. Rodgers
Director, Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
Charles M. Ward, In Perils of…Brethren (Columbus, GA: Quill Publications, 1991), 55-57.
Lewis Wilson, “The Kerr-Peirce Role in A/G Education,” Assemblies of God Heritage 10:1 (Spring 1990): 6.
Graceann Kolenda, “John and Marguerite Kolenda: Putting God First,” Assemblies of God Heritage 13:1 (Spring 1993): 30.
Elizabeth Wilson, “A Special Christmas Eve in Peking,” Assemblies of God Heritage 2:4 (Winter 1982-1983): 3.
Esther Mae Cooper, “Christmas on the Pacific,” Christ’s Ambassadors Herald 16:12 (December 1943): 4.