Christmas in Saudi Arabia
You probably don't remember me; I will remember you for eternity.
In November, 1992, I deployed to Saudi Arabia with my US Air Force unit for a 60-day deployment. This would keep us in Saudi until well after Christmas. I was particularly unhappy about that because my wife was pregnant with our first child and I really wished to be with her for the holiday.
Upon arrival in the Kingdom, my dissatisfaction grew as we were briefed on the restrictions on our holiday celebrations: no decorations, No public posting of Christmas gatherings, and no Christmas music (even in our quarters). This was particularly disturbing to me because after several years of not serving God as I should, I had re-affirmed my faith and was anticipating a holiday season full of the true meaning of Christ's birth.
As the holiday got closer, my resentment grew until it began to darken my whole attitude and fill me with an angry spirit unworthy of the season. Then in mid-December, I went into town to buy a couple of more Christmas gifts to send to my family in the US. This is where I met you. I went into your shop, selected several items and negotiated with you on the price. As I did, I allowed my anger to vent at you. I assumed you were Muslim and I decided that "this Muslim" would have some idea how I felt about things. I filled our conversations with phrases such as "These are CHRISTMAS presents!" and "I have to mail them before CHRISTMAS!" I was going to shove the name of Christ and the celebration of his birth right in your face.
What happened next amazed me! You asked me what I would buy if I were going to buy two more items. I indicated my choices. You then slid them across the counter to me and said in a soft voice, "Please accept these as a Christmas gift, for I too am a Christian!" Then you added apologetically "But please don't mention this outside my shop, I could lose all if my neighbors found out."
Upon hearing those words, I realized how blessed I was. For the first thirty years of my life I had worshipped, prayed to my God, and celebrated Christmas however I wished. Unlike you, I had never faced persecution by any nation, group or family member. Once I opened my eyes to see a small slice of your world, I realized the dangers of being a Saudi Christian, the potential cost of what you had shared with me and had to wonder at your bravery and generosity.
You gave me three gifts that night. First, the items you slid across the counter were wonderful, loving gifts which were made more so by the heart of the giver. Second, your words touched my heart and gave me back my holiday; reminding me that with Christ in my heart everyday is Christmas. Lastly, your shared faith, whispered across that counter, is still one of the loudest and most powerful testimonies I have ever heard. It gave me perspective and motivates me to regularly praise God for the freedom I enjoy and to ask God to be with all of his children around the world who must worship in private places and share whispered words of encouragement and praise.
This Christmas my heart is with you and all my Christian brothers and sisters in lands where your celebration of Christ's birth must be in secret. I look forward to the day we all stand in God's kingdom and worship him together in perfect freedom.