I couldn’t help but notice the severe limp as she struggled to walk unassisted into the room.
She gathered there with 45 co-survivors, all refugees from Cambodia. They were known as “Boat People.”
Historical note: The Khmer Rouge oversaw one of the largest genocides of the 20th century: an estimated two million of Cambodia’s seven million people died at their hands, from execution, starvation, overwork and disease. In this murderous utopia, the ruling hyper-Maoist communists were obsessed with racial purity. Nearly all of the estimated 20,000 ethnic Vietnamese who were not fortunate enough to escape died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.
It was the Sunday before Christmas and our congregation was formally adopting this group of courageous refugees who barely managed to escape with their lives. In this special Christmas service, we were welcoming them into the fellowship and under the watchful care of our congregation.
They were led by a young Cambodian pastor who also served as interpreter. I invited him to introduce a few members of his flock and ask them one simple question: “What does Christmas mean to you.”
All the responses were deeply moving, but my breath was taken away by the simple response from the last person, the elderly lady who had walked in with that horrific limp. The pastor shared her name and explained how she had been shot through the knee as she was clamoring aboard a jam-packed wooden boat. Drifting for days at sea, praying they would not be intercepted by a Khmer Rouge patrol boat, she received no medical attention. The wound eventually healed but she would never again have normal use of her right leg.
When asked the same question as the others, she paused a moment and then offered in her native tongue this brief response, translated by her pastor:
“To me, Christmas means God helps me walk with my pain.”
How totally un-American! We’re all about avoiding, denying or numbing ourselves to pain. Our typical pain-prayer is: “God, make it go away!” Generally, in our culture, suffering is not seen as something meaningful, but as an interruption.
Suffering can be unbearable if we cannot know God is with us. Have you ever noticed how some of the loveliest people often have pain-filled histories? But, when you think about it, a simple lump of coal subjected to enough pressure can become a diamond.
Maybe we’re healing when we can feel the sadness of the world. For example, when we grieve not only for our own inner wounded child, but grieve for our parents’ wounds, too.
God’s love will never disappoint. It cannot change, can’t be lost, is not based on life’s ups and downs or how poorly we behave. Not even death will take God’s love from us. Can you say the same for anything else this old world has to offer?
Maybe we’ll realize God is all we need when God is all we have. If that’s what’s left, it’s enough.