Christmas Letter 2019

When gifts arrive in the form of the children in our lives

Along with revered legends like the Archangel Gabriel, who appeared to the Virgin Mary to ask if she would be the Mother of Jesus, we hold dearly to the Star in the East.

This hallowed light brought Three Wise Men, schooled in the lore of stars and constellations, to Bethlehem, where they paid homage to the newly-born Jesus, King of the Jews.

So reads the original legend -- our ancient scrolls translate how these holy men had studied and believed the legends that God would send his own son to be born on Earth, to save mankind from its sins, and a mysterious star would be an unmistakable sign, shown to a few -- thus they journeyed long distances from the east.

A mysterious sacred light would appear in the eastern sky to guide their journey -- safely -- lest they stray on the arduous difficult way to Bethlehem in Judea. It is in this part of our great legends that we find our Klong Toey story this year.

I teach our children the original truths, of course, but also the need to make them very real today for our Mercy Centre abandoned kids and orphans -- for them and all of us reading this story today as we make our own journey through life, as we too travel to Bethlehem.

Just as the Magi offered mystical gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, so too our children and staff, all of us, of all beliefs, might humbly offer our own special gifts. It began long ago, when the Magi and their retinue arrived at the boundaries of our Klong Toey slum, and the smaller children began to cry and run to hide, standing, looking out, but safely hidden behind their mums. Seeking protection from these strange animals. Totally frightened. They had never seen camels before. So the camel drivers met an elephant driver. Now, the elephant driver wasn't supposed to be in the slum either, but he was on his way back to the forest where elephants are supposed to live, but had promised to stop and see his mum, even for a moment, who lived in the slum.

So that's how they met. And he agreed to take the Magi, said they could ride on his elephant as they passed through the slum as they followed the star.

Our children said they didn't totally believe the story about the elephant and the camels but that it was OK.

And the rest of the story, they knew and you know. The missing parts, you have to fill in for yourselves from your own lives and homes.

Let our children tell you their own Klong Toey stories of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

We had an abused three-year-old girl, whom we will call Miss Joy. She had never been allowed to play, to smile, to laugh or, really, to ever live fully. Now she hops, skips and smiles like an angel, plays with abandon. She even jumps up and down, up and down in pure glee. For no obvious reason. Just for fun. The first time she "played" was several months ago. After playing a few minutes she began crying. Her teacher rushed to her side, knelt down to check her and look her in the eyes.

"What is wrong, where are you hurt?"

Tears streaking her face, Miss Joy replied: "Wrong? Nothing is wrong. This is so much fun. Can I do this again tomorrow?"

Miss Joy. She is our first gift.

The second gift is from a five-year-old, whom we will call Miss Gift. Her daddy is legally blind, and her mum is totally blind. But our Miss Gift sees fully and perfectly. Therefore, she uses her gift of sight to help her mum and dad walk herself and her younger brother to our kindergarten school. She does this each and every morning. This way her daddy and mum know that she and her brother are safe. This blessing of a five-year-old girl's evolved selflessness is our second gift.

Our third gift is another five-year-old girl, Miss Talent. Her mum is a cleaning lady and her daddy a refugee. Dad is a very talented portrait artist, but he has nowhere near the natural talent of his daughter. She draws pictures of her own mum wearing her cleaning outfit, hoping maybe her picture will remind everyone of their own mum, and even of the mum of Jesus.

In this way she reminds us that our own mums are perhaps far distant relatives of Jesus' mum.

So, this Christmas and New Year, may you also follow the hallowed star along with the Magi and our children in the slums of Klong Toey. Following the leads of Miss Joy, Miss Gift and Miss Talent, let us all meet just outside Bethlehem, in our own towns and cities and countries. Let us all meet there in the shadow of the star shining from the east. In the shadow of humankind's glorious rainbow.

Happy Christmas.

Father Joe Maier is the director and co-founder of the Human Development Foundation in Klong Toey. For more information, call 02-671-5313 or visit mercycentre.org.