Christmas-time in Tanzania doesn’t really feel like Christmas. People don’t decorate much, there are no big carol services, no one has real plans or Christmas parties, and the weather is nowhere near your typical White Christmas scene. A few weeks ago, Grace Kanungha (boss/mentor/host mom/all around go-to person) and I were lamenting about Christmas traditions we missed most, but agreed that not having a “Western” Christmas wasn’t the end of the world. Last week though, she came to me with the “crazy” (her words) idea of putting together a nativity play for our church service the following Sunday. I love spur of the moment plans, so obviously I agreed and this left us with a little less than a week to plan an entire service for a congregation who had little to no experience or knowledge of what we were going to do. She planned liturgy and logistics while I was in charge of costumes and props. At first, this seemed like a daunting task. At home, most churches would have some extra fabric and craft supplies lying around, but our church in Solya doesn’t. There are very few shops you can just run to and buy supplies, and as much as I wish there was, Michael’s hasn’t made it to rural Tanzania yet. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Cardboard, sticks, and bits of fabric we had around the house could be turned into perfectly good props and costumes. Dishrags tied around your head and a piece of paper with cotton balls on can turn anyone into a shepherd! These people had zero expectations of what my vision of a nativity play looked like, and they would not know or even care that everything was (quickly) handmade by a 22 year old and a 13 year old (my wonderful helper, Patrick). What mattered to the congregation at Solya Church was that they got to see, some for the first time, the entire story acted out before their eyes. They were able to visualize and put human faces to the story that we’ve all heard a million times. They could envision the scary idea of giving birth in a stable; one just like a stable that they or their neighbors probably have.
There’s a sign in our living room here that says “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” I think about it often, and think it’s a perfect motto, not just for missionaries, but for people everywhere. When you try your best and do what you can, even if it’s not much, God makes it enough. So next time you’re having a little panic because you can’t find the ~holiest~ halo for your little angel, or Joseph’s beard falls apart halfway through the service, take a breath and know that it’s okay. The costumes and props, no matter how adorable, are not the point. The point is the message and the incredible gift God gave us when He sent His son to us. These plays are meant to honor and remember that gift, and I really think God will appreciate whatever we put before him, even if it’s a little messy.