Even though it was years ago, I remember it as clearly as if it were today: the year our Christmas was a sickly yellow.
It had taken me a good while to adapt to life in Ghana. After many mornings of tears–morning is when the reality of life there would hit me–I adjusted well. Life was good: The evening Bible school was off to a good start, we were getting to know our neighbors, Gary was mentoring a couple of men and I was helping Nicole, French and married to a Ghanaian, grow in her new faith.
Our world came crashing down around us when Gary got very sick. Just a couple months before he’d had typhoid fever and malaria. What was happening?
When Gary turned yellow, I guessed his diagnosis.
But borders were closed. Supplies in the country were so low that he could not even get a blood test to tell what kind of hepatitis he had.
At the time none of our colleagues were in the city. We did live near the university and knew the dean of the medical school. He started making house calls “with empty hands,” for there was nothing he could do.
The Darkest Christmas
Those were dark days for us as Christmas approached.
We tried to make the best of it with our two small boys, while we watched “Papa” get thinner and thinner. The bile under his skin caused severe itching and relief only came with a scalding bath followed by a cold shower.
Then Gary would sit under the ceiling fan clad only in boxer shorts––any other clothes irritated his skin. But this routine wasn’t always possible with frequent power outages and lack of water.
And we were almost out of food. He needed some good nutrition.
I was not a coffee drinker, but needed to stay awake for some “alone time” in the evenings, so learned to drink it. I was exhausted but wanted to write letters back home to people who were praying for us.
Often sitting with only the light of an oil lamp, I’d hear God speak words of comfort and peace. He showed me Isaiah 40 and reminded me of it again and again.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…They will soar on wings like eagles…
When god gives Christmas Gifts
God’s grace amazed us with gifts!
A knock sounded at the door one evening. Linda, a Peace Corps friend, greeted us with a special piece of meat wrapped in shiny tinfoil and a festive Christmas bow. It was delicious.
Later our adventuresome friend Keith showed up with a cooler full of meat and a sack of potatoes bought in a neighboring country; he’d slipped across the border in a desolate area. What a treat! (We’d never eaten potatoes in Ghana. They don’t grow there.)
Not long after that, a missionary friend traveling through our city walked into our house with a gunnysack over his shoulder. He dumped the contents out on our kitchen table. My eyes opened wide when I realized Howie had shared from their “special times” stockpile.
What stood out the most was a can of powdered lime drink. Now Gary could have at least a sort of fruit juice. The tiny ants marching around the glass at his bedside didn’t irritate me as they usually did; I was overjoyed to offer him such a treat.
Most exciting was the day a truck, oddly, pulled up to our door. I was certain it was a mistake, especially since on it were two small barrels for us. It didn’t make sense until we learned they had been flown in from London by friends who used to live near us in Ghana.
Having heard of Gary’s illness and knowing what the closed borders would mean for our food supply, Graham and Sue knew exactly what to send us.
The thrill of unwrapping foods fresh off English grocery shelves is embedded in my memory: beautiful, clean packages of flour, sugar, and powdered milk with special Christmas treats tucked in.
We were overwhelmed by God’s tender care for us.
When God’s Kindness Means Saying Goodbye
Before long the medical school dean told us Gary was not getting better and we needed to go home to get medical care. Gary had lost a garish 65 pounds.
It was unsettling to abruptly leave a home and ministry we loved. But we knew God doesn’t make mistakes. That he cares deeply for us.
So we trusted.
It took a couple of days to prepare to leave, and we certainly wanted to celebrate our Savior’s birth before we left. We made clothespin ornaments representing our family to put on our little tree.
The ending of the Not-so-fairytale Christmas
Back in the U.S., Gary initially was isolated in a hospital room until they determined for sure he had Hepatitis A. He ended up being yellow with the severe itching…for four more months.
God provided a house for us near my family and a main supporting church of ours. And a friend, starting up a pizza business, gave us a case of frozen pizzas and a pizza oven so Gary could gain back some weight.
Six months later we returned to Ghana, eager to get back to our work.
Our clothespin ornaments are falling apart now, but we still hang them on our tree each year. And as we do, we remember what God taught us during our yellow Christmas.
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