In 1971, John Lennon wrote a unique and challenging Christmas song -- "Happy Xmas (War is Over)". You probably know it well. The song is not about shepherds or wise men. It does not mention a baby who came to save us. Instead, the song is a Christmastime plea for peace, and specifically an end to the Vietnam War. As John sings "happy Christmas" wishes to those near and dear, a children's chorus sings the haunting refrain, "war is over, if you want it; war is over now." The song goes a step further, demanding to know "what have you done?," and "what have we done?," for the cause of peace.
We find ourselves wrestling with some of these questions as our year in Cambodia approaches a Christmastime finish. With another year over, what have we done? Have we made a difference? Is the world any closer to the ideal of peace? Of justice? The fight to end human trafficking is far from over. How do we "celebrate" Christmas in the midst of all of this? And how are we supposed to leave?
It is a most unusual time, and a challenging Christmas season.
Of course, there is a buzz of excitement about returning home. We have missed our people and places and Zoey the family dog. We often find ourselves counting the days, with great anticipation. (Just twelve days until departure!) But we are also grieving. It has been a special time of family bonding, meaningful work, learning about the world, and building relationships with people we have come to love. We will dearly miss our Cambodian friends, our time here, all that we have experienced together, and the work. It has been an incredibly special chapter. (Sigh -- just twelve days until departure....) We are navigating all of this the best that we can. And we are trying to hold it all loosely, knowing that we are in God's hands.
So, how are the kids doing as we approach the finish line? Well, they are just fantastic. It has been so rewarding as parents to watch them stretch and grow during a year of challenges they did not choose. They have made friends with people who originate from all over the world. They have experienced what it is like to be a racial, cultural, and ethnic minority at school. They have learned that gaga ball can be called "octoball," and it's still just as much fun. They have learned to play "muk-jji-ppa" -- the South Korean variety of "rock, paper, scissors." They have learned some Khmer and some French. In addition to Cambodia, they have traveled to Thailand, China, and Japan. Their horizons have expanded, and the world has become smaller and closer to home. They have drawn closer to what really matters -- following God, taking risks when it matters, cherishing family, and serving those in need. They will never be the same. None of us will ever be the same.
Despite the many new challenges and changes, much of our year has felt familiar and "normal." Thais and I recently joined our IJM-Cambodia team for our annual staff retreat. On Friday evening we attended the IJM Christmas party, where we shared great food and fun times with friends and colleagues. Naeda spent yesterday primping for her winter formal, and last weekend she was part of the school play. Lincoln is on the rotation for reading scripture at our church, and today he read from Isaiah 40. David spent yesterday morning playing laser tag at a friend's birthday party. Our evenings are filled with homework and laundry and cooking and cleaning. Some things don't change across the time zones.
What has changed for us? One thing is certain. We will return home with stories to tell and with much greater awareness about how our choices as consumers impact the modern-day slave trade. (Life of the party, right?) If you want a sobering glimpse, head over to slaveryfootprint.org. You will be astonished to find out how many slaves in this world are working for you right now.
This Christmas, I hope we will all ask ourselves "what have we done?" on the issue of human trafficking. Because we can do a lot. We can look for fair trade coffee, chocolate, cotton, produce, and other products, and we can choose to pay a higher price to ensure that workers are treated with basic dignity. We can ask questions where we buy our clothes, our food, and our electronics, and we can encourage companies to monitor and address slavery in their supply chains. We can give to organizations like International Justice Mission, who are on the front lines of this fight every day and all over the world. We can pray. We can make a difference. It is on us -- all of us. Next year, when we are at "another year over," let's make sure our voices have been heard.
John Lennon had a lot of things right:
He was right about that. In so many ways, the world is so wrong. But God wrote the ending, and Christ came for everyone -- weak, strong, rich, poor, young, and old.
There was once another John who gave us a beautiful picture of how this all changes. He told us of one who was with God in the beginning. One through whom all things were made. One in whom was life, and the light of all mankind. That light came into the world at Christmas, and it shines in the darkness. The darkness cannot overcome that light. It's up to all of us to spread the light, to illuminate the world, and to drown out the darkness. It's on us.
This Christmas, may that light shine in and through each of you. And may each of us share that light with those all around us.
To you and yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas. And a Happy New Year. Let's hope it's a good one. Without any fear.