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Merry Christmas from East Timor

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The clock is just about to strike midnight here in Lospalos. Santa will show up soon, with surprises for Simon and Hannah's friends, as well as for them. Thinking of you all as I send these Christmas thoughts and prayers.

...In the days of Caesar Augustus, Joseph went to Bethlehem from Nazareth with Mary, who was pregnant. And when they arrived at that place far from home, in the middle of the night, Mary gave birth with only Joseph at her side. And we are awed that Jesus was born to Mary, and in a stable! Rarely does one mention that she gave birth without a midwife. (Yes, they did exist even 2,000 years ago!)

We do talk about how, in the Gospel of Luke, an angel appears to shepherds out doing their normal thing at night. “Do not be afraid!” the angel tells them. Now, when Mary first learns she is with child, an angel tells her the same thing: “Do not be afraid.” But when it was time to actually give birth, we read no such consolation for young Mary.

Any woman who has ever given birth knows that the pain grows greatly.

If one is not actually afraid, the edges of fear are never far away, and must be quelled with a sense of calm that comes with loving support and the presence of another. Thanks to God, Mary had this.

Last week in Lospalos, East Timor, a first time mother was in the local government hospital, ready to give birth. Her husband and mother-in-law were with her. As the young mother cried out with the urge to push, her husband ran to call the midwife into the delivery room, but found no one in the hospital to help. The baby was born, and the grandmother in attendance cut the umbilical cord. Mother and baby were well. The new father was not. He put his fist through a window in the delivery room, enraged from fear, that no one came to help at the birth of his first child, there in the hospital.

One of the striking differences between East Timor and America is this. When we go to a hospital for help in the U.S., lights are on, the floor is relatively clean, and health care staff are there to receive us. In Lospalos and countless villages in the country, you just can’t count on the basics. I know some fathers who likely would have had the same reaction if they had had a “solo” birthing experience in a hospital in America.

We are celebrating another Christmas here this year. Although we miss snow, hot chocolate, and the smell of a wood-burning stove, here in Timor, the meaning of the Christmas story is almost tangible.

Christmas brings us a promise of HOPE. Hope over fear. Hope that no person in need will be forgotten. Hope that, like in Jesus’ birth story, shepherds and angels will come to surround, support, and appreciate even the smallest ones, the seemingly insignificant ones.

Our hope and prayer is that our presence here in East Timor may be a ray of hope for the sick person waiting at the clinic at 7am, for the lonely person in the back of the church, or for that quiet teenager in youth group. And that Hannah and Simon’s enthusiasm and friendship touch many lives here.

The Timorese people’s endurance of hardship and their ability to keep going anyway — despite poor living conditions, despite inadequate food, despite having lost a parent in war, or a smallchild to some otherwise curable illness — such endurance inspires US, gives us hope in our being here.

Merry Christmas, dear family and friends. May it be full of love, joy, peace, and HOPE.

Monica, Tom, Hannah & Simon


Dr. Monica and Rev. Tom Liddle are our NY Conference Global Missionary partners serving with the Protestant Church of East Timor. Monica serves as medical personnel and midwife at Immanuel Clinic in Lospasos, East Timor, and Tom works as a facilitator for strengthening  congregations and for continuing education of pastors. They have 2 children: Hannah, 12, and Simon, 6.

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