The Harmonica: A Christmas Story

harmonicaMany years ago, I was deeply involved in mission work in Jamaica. One of the primary ministry points was an extremely needy boys’ home. On one of my initial trips to this home, I was struck by the austere conditions in which the children lived. Months passed, but I couldn’t get those children out of my mind. As Christmas drew near, I worked feverishly and with the help of family and friends, I gathered items to take to the home for Christmas. I didn’t inform the superintendent of my intentions of a Christmas visit. I wanted it to be a complete surprise.

When I drove up in front of the main building at the home, the superintendent came out. I showed him the packages each boy would receive. Each would get a washcloth, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, underwear, a pair of shoes, and of course some Christmas candy and a small toy. He told me this had been one of the worst years financially the home had ever experienced.  The children had been informed there would be no Christmas party that year. But then he confidently said, “I knew you would come.” I asked, “How could you possibly know I was coming?” The superintendent then shared with me the following account. It was indelibly etched in my mind. 

John’s Story

When I was a boy, about eight years old, I lived in this very home. It had been a particularly hard year for the home. We were often hungry, our clothes were rags, and we had no toys or little else to take our minds off our deprivation.  Then came a sad day when the old gentleman in charge assembled all of us boys in the chapel. With a heavy heart, he told us that there would be no gifts or special celebration because of our dire financial situation. He said he would try to have toto, (a sweet cornbread), half a banana, and some weak tea for our Christmas morning breakfast. He would also try to get some chicken backs, necks, and feet to go with our rice for our Christmas dinner. We were all sad and solemn as we left the chapel.

I slipped away to my bed. Under my mattress, I had hidden a few pages from an old Christmas catalog that I had taken from the book room. Missionaries sometimes brought magazines along with some worn children’s books to put in our book room.  The pages from the catalog had pictures of toys that the white children in America would get for Christmas gifts.  One picture captured my attention. It was a little boy about my age playing a harmonica. The picture showed the notes rising in the air as the boy played. The boy’s family was gathered around the Christmas tree and were singing together. I dreamed of getting a harmonica for Christmas.

We had been taught that Jesus loved children and heard their prayers. With all my heart, I prayed. Hoping against hope, I prayed and believed Jesus would see to it I got the harmonica. I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning. I didn’t sleep much that night. Before daylight, I searched all around my bed and couldn’t find it. My fear increased as the minutes passed. Then I thought maybe the harmonica had been placed far back under my bed so no one would see it and take it. My hope began to rise as sunlight filtered into the dorm room and I was better able to see. I slipped quietly out of bed and searched under and all around the bed. There was no harmonica! At breakfast, I was hungry and the meal was meager, but I couldn’t eat. I had never known disappointment and sadness so deep. I asked to be excused and walked down the drive to the big entry gate by the road. I sat in the shadow of the gate with my back to the home so none of the boys could see me. I cried and cried. There was no harmonica and Jesus didn’t care about a poor Jamaican orphan.

Through the sobs and tears, I heard noise down the road toward the banana fields. I looked up and saw a dirty old man in tattered, stained clothes step out onto the road. He labored beneath the large stalk of bananas on his shoulder.  He slowly made His way up the road and stopped by the gatepost where I was sitting. He looked into my tear filled eyes and asked why I was crying. Through the sobs, I told him what had happened. I told him that I didn’t get the harmonica and that not even Jesus cared for me on this Christmas day. The old man told me not to cry and tried to reassure me that Jesus really did care. He gave no other explanation or comfort and gradually walked on.

Just before he disappeared from view, he turned around and called out, ‘little boy, come here.’ Still crying, I got up and walked up to him. He reached into his old shirt pocket and pulled out a shiny Harmonica, like the one I had prayed for. He handed it to me. Without another word, he walked on and disappeared from my view.  Could this have been an angel? (Heb. 13:2)

God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform (Cowper).

~ Brother Roy

A Proverb

New Hope Community Church of Berrydale, Jamaica

New Hope Community Church of Berrydale, Jamaica

A proverb may be defined as a short familiar saying that expresses a supposed truth or moral lesson.  Solomon, as a guide for moral practice, wrote the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament.  The Book of Proverbs has been a moral compass across the centuries. The origin of other proverbs is frequently a mystery.  They simply are part of a surrounding culture and are considered worthy of remembering because of the lessons they teach.

Miss Sue taught a proverb of unknown origin to a Bible School team she led to Jamaica. The proverb had been set to music and was easy to remember. The children from the rural community where the team was working loved it. It quickly became incorporated into local conversation.

An NHIM construction team was working across the river from Miss Sue’s Bible School site. The community of Berrydale was separated from the main community by a river. There was no bridge in the area to connect Berrydale with essential services. Often high water isolated the residents for many days. NHIM was helping the people build a church and school on their side of the river so worship and education would not be interrupted.

The people of Berrydale came alongside the NHIM team to help in anyway they could. Our team ran out of time before the building project could be completed. A number of small jobs needed to be done before the people could move into the buildings. The NHIM project leader showed the locals how to finish these smaller projects in our absence. We committed to return in a few months and finish any work that was too difficult for the community to do.

When we returned, weeds and vines had grown up all around the buildings. It appeared that none of the work left to the community had been completed.

What happened? Why had they not finished their jobs? Miss Sue’s parable had been quickly integrated into the their conversation and pin-pointed the problem. Let me share the parable.

“Anybody could do

What everybody should do

All the good things

That nobody did!”

The parable has universal applications. So much essential work in building the Kingdom of God goes undone because of the truth expressed in this little parable. There are things that we should be doing to advance the cause of Christ. They remain undone simply because we just don’t get around to it. We are content to let somebody else do it.  A word to the wise, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17)

~Brother Roy

“I’m a Children”

About twenty years ago, I had a team of Asbury College students in Jamaica on Christmas break. We were taking much needed clothing and shoes to several children’s homes on the north side of the island. We planned to spend a day at each home playing with the children and having a Christmas party. Each child would receive some clothing, a pair of shoes, a toy, and some candy. What a joy to share the Christmas story, sing Christmas carols, and give each one their presents. For most of the children, this would be the only Christmas gifts or celebration they would experience.

One day while the college students were sorting clothing and wrapping gifts, I made a trip to a remote children’s home to be sure they were expecting us. I started my journey in the town of Highgate, where we were staying. The narrow winding road led up a steep grade for several miles toward the top of the mountain. Pringle Children Home was situated near the very crest of the mountain.  Even though Jamaica has tropical temperature year around, the higher elevation and prevailing wind makes it cooler than almost any place on the island. When I stepped out of the car, I shivered against the cold.

I was surprised when children and staff did not immediately surround the car. They don’t get a lot of visitors at Pringle. On previous visits there, excited children had besieged the car before it stopped rolling. This time I didn’t see anyone. The place seemed to be deserted. I called out and heard no answer. This was strange, almost eerie. I walked through the empty main building and stepped out the backdoor. It was there I heard a scraping sound in the backyard. Sitting on the ground not far away was an adolescent girl. She had her back to me. She was scouring a large cooking pot with sand. “Where is everyone?” I asked. “Where are the children? There are no children here.”

The girl, with steady gaze, was looking across the way perhaps a half-mile, to another rise. My eyes followed the direction of her gaze. I could see children dashing about and could faintly hear their laughter. The Pringle Home children had been invited to participate in a field day at the local government school. As I started to leave, the girl stopped scouring and turned around. I could see deep sadness in her dull eyes. She was mentally deficient and had been left behind. She spoke in halting speech, as if to hold me there for another moment. “Sir, I’m a children.”

Those words still burn in my mind. How many times have I looked across the way and neglected to see one at my very feet. We often rush to serve a larger population or in a distant place. However, someone like this precious child may be right in front of us longing for our attention. Can you hear her soft voice? I still hear her saying,  “Sir, I’m a children.”

Lord, give us the grace and wisdom to minister “to the least of God’s children.”

~ Brother Roy