Earlier in the week, Erwin, the pastor of El Camino, called me and invited me to “Christmas, Carols, and Cocoa”, the church’s attempt at gathering some of the neighbors to Lydia’s house to meet them and tell them the Christmas story. Lydia lived in Baker and was very active in El Camino; I’d spoken to her a few times, but this was the first time I would be spending any substantial time in her house.
It happened that their neighborhood party was the same day as the Mika Christmas Store, so when I arrived at Lydia’s house, I had already worked a 10 hour shift on 5 hours of sleep after surviving an incredibly hard week for me personally. I wasn’t thrilled about having to leave the Store and return an hour later to spend the rest of my night cleaning, but I went anyway.
I walked in right at 5pm and was greeted with the smells of beans, rice, and fried tortillas. Erwin sat me down with a plate full of food and an excited look on his face and said, “Michaela” (my Spanish name), “we would be honored if you would read the Christmas story to the children. The story is in English and the kids will respond to you.” I knew they had wanted me there to talk to some of the neighbors, but I didn’t realize I would be heading up the activity that was the central purpose of gathering the neighbors together.
Because I had to get back to the Christmas Store within the hour, I hardly had time to think about it. Immediately after we finished eating, we went outside in the back alley behind the apartments where all the chairs and the nativity scene were set up. I was introduced to a few families and sat down in a chair in front of a group of 20-30 people. I was handed a microphone, a book, and a bag of prizes– to give to the kids after they correctly answered my questions about the story. All the children in the crowd gathered at my feet, and I stared back at them as they waited to hear what this girl that couldn’t communicate with most of the crowd could possibly have to say.
And then I read. I could hear my voice projecting through the speakers down the alley and into the apartments. Most of the kids had no idea what was happening. They fidgeted a lot and occasionally looked up at me to see the pictures. After I finished the story, I had to come up with questions about what I just read. “Who told Mary she was going to have a baby?” Silence. “God,” one child quietly answered. “Well, technically, yes…but…” I trailed off. “Okay, how about another question..Why do we celebrate Christmas?” I asked. “God,” another child answered. After what seemed like hours, we were finally able to coax the kids into giving the right answers and gave away all the prizes. A wave of relief came over me and the neighbors clapped and cheered for me.
Before I left, I sat at the sidelines to take it all in. Neighbors went and got food. Kids ran around and looked at the nativity scene. People smiled at me and I smiled back at them. I had left the comfort of my behind-the-scenes job at the Store with the rest of the Mika staff to stand in front of a crowd of native Spanish speakers who I hardly knew. They had invited me– insisting that I re-arrange my schedule so I could be there– to put me in a leadership position in their community. I realized what an honor it was to be a trusted part of their lives although we have so little in common. However, that which we do have in common– the desire to be in community despite our obvious differences– brought us together. I was refreshed, and suddenly going back to finish cleaning the Christmas Store didn’t seem so daunting.