Mary Slessor of Calabar (Nigeria) – Pioneer Missionary

Free Book Recommendation!

Dear Readers,

Since I mentioned Mary Slessor last post, I decided to republish this about her life.  It’s now a free book on Kindle, so I hope you are blessed in reading about this heroine of mine.

by W.P. Livingstone

I have been reading it this time through the lens of life experiences since I have now visited several “third world” countries, including jungles, and can better appreciate the hardships she endured. She had such passion to give the wonderful good news of Jesus Christ to cannibal jungle tribes in Nigeria from 1876-1915, and endured much physically and emotionally as she trusted God to transform the people by His power.

Mary Slessor- a Scottish single lady who devoted her life to reaching the cannibal tribes in Nigeria

Challenged by the life of David Livingstone, Mary Slessor offered her services as a missionary in Calabar, Nigeria. Arriving there when she was 28 years old, she overcame her fears and inexperience with a genuine love for the people and shared with them the hope of the resurrection through faith in Jesus Christ. Earning the nickname “White Ma” she became mother to many adopted children and never failed to preach the love of Christ to all she met. Many times she was ill with fever from malaria, but God renewed her strength repeatedly so she could carry on the work.

The natives believed that any mother who gave birth to twins must be cast out and the twins be killed immediately. Mary rescued many twins and raised them herself to demonstrate the love of Christ to them.

Mary Slessor with some of her beloved adopted children.

She worked long hours as a mill worker in Scotland before coming to Nigeria in 1876. She was a diligent student of the Bible although she never received any formal training herself. When no worker could be found to go with her into the jungle, she went alone with some natives, trusting God to open doors. She wrote in a letter home in 1888, “I am going to a new tribe up-country, a fierce, cruel people, and every one tells me that they will kill me. But I don’t fear any hurt –only to combat their savage customs will require courage and firmness on my part.”

Even though she was not a formally trained nurse, she did what she could to relieve the people’s sufferings who usually went to the witch doctor when ill. In 1896, she decided to move further up the river with her many adopted children since most of the tribe had moved there. However, there was much sickness among the children by an infectious disease which caused the death of four of them. To make matters worse, smallpox then swept through the country, killing hundreds of people. For hours daily she vaccinated all who came to her hut. A man from the mission downriver arrived when her supply of lymph had run out and assisted her to take blood with a penknife from the arms of those who had already been inoculated so they could inoculate more.

She returned to her old house and converted it into a hospital, and people flocked to it. When she heard her beloved Christian chief Edim caught the smallpox in the new village, she tramped back alone through the jungle to nurse him, but it was in vain.  The Lord took him home to heaven in the middle of the night. Since she had no one to help her, she fashioned a coffin with her own hands, placed his body in it, dug a grave, and buried him.

Mary with Chief Edem who later died of smallpox

Two white Christian men arrived from the Mission House down river to help, and she asked one of them to go back to her old house to gather some supplies. When he arrived in the village, all was total silence and he knew something was wrong. He opened the door of her house to find it full of corpses of those who had died from small pox. The place was never fit for habitation again, and gradually was engulfed in bush and vanished from the face of the earth.

Later in her life, the British government appointed her as Vice Consul because of her unique command of the native language, her understanding of their customs, and the great respect and love the people gave her. People would flock to her from miles around so she could preside as judge over their cases. Sometimes her judgement was to assign hard labor for 1 to 3 months, while other times she would box the person’s ears! This was a huge change from when they would administer the poison bean to some while pouring boiling oil over others. Previously, whenever a chief died, they would kill many of his wives and children to serve him in the afterlife. As more and more became Christians, the twin killing and killing among the tribes gradually stopped.

Mary presiding at Okoyong Court

So I hope I have told you enough to whet your appetite to read or reread this classic biography. You will be blessed, amazed, and challenged as you see how God used this humble little Scottish single lady to transform  tribes of cannibals through the power of Jesus Christ! Her image is now on the 10 pound note in Scotland.

Mary's image on the 10 pound note of Scotland!

“and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Modern day photo of Cross River, Nigeria where Mary labored.

Jesus – Born in Bethlehem

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod, the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.” Matthew:2:1-2

Bethlehem, Israel – March, 2013

25,000 people now reside in Bethlehem, Israel

25,000 people now reside in Bethlehem, Israel

Our tour group boarded our bus outside our hotel in Jerusalem and traveled 20 minutes to the city of Bethlehem which now has 25,000 residents. We drove past the huge cement wall built between Palestinian controlled Bethlehem and Jerusalem to prevent the Arab snipers from shooting them. At the checkpoint, the security guard waved us through after our driver told him we were American tourists. Our day to visit Bethlehem changed since President Obama was scheduled to visit here in three days. We parked in an underground garage and walked several blocks uphill to the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site where Jesus Christ was born in a cave. We passed Muslim women dressed head to toe in black, brown, or gray burkas.

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

Construction began in 326 A.D. on this oldest church in the Holy Land which is still in use. It is separated into three different sanctuaries of the Franciscan Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox.

We entered through a four foot high door with a foot high wall at the bottom. Our guide told us they built it this short purposely as a deterrent to any enemies! "Mouse hole" entrance to Church of the Nativity!

“Mouse hole” entrance to Church of the Nativity!When an enemy entered all bent over, he couldn’t shoot anyone, but the person inside could knock him over or kill him easily.

Then we wandered from one sanctuary to the other. It was quite interesting to compare the different architectural styles, the Armenian one being the most ornate. We waited in line about 20 minutes to see the glass covered hole in the floor that is supposed to be the actual birthplace of Christ.

Traditional birthplace of Christ.

Traditional birthplace of Christ.

Our Hebrew Christian guide, told us that in 1948 when the State of Israel began, Bethlehem had all Christian residents, but now there are only about 40 families remaining. The Muslims won’t hire them, so all the Christian young people are leaving.

We went to a gift shop that an Arab Christian started to support these remaining families. The believers carve nativity scenes out of olive wood which are very intricate. I treasure the one I purchased that portrays Mary and Joseph gazing at the Christ child in the cave. I also learned the typical manger was made of stone, unlike the wooden mangers usually portrayed in the USA.

My olive wood nativity scene carved by Christians in Bethlehem.

My olive wood nativity scene carved by Christians in Bethlehem.

Reflection

As I recalled my days in Labor and Delivery helping those babies into the world on Christmas morning in 1981, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone assisted Mary during her labor other than Joseph? It simply states in Luke 2:7  And she brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger. This is what the midwife or nurse would typically do who assisted the mother.  Midwives are mentioned in Exodus 1:15-22 who feared God and preserved the Hebrew male babies from Pharaoh’s wrath. “Therefore God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied, and became very mighty.” I do not think God gave any details about Mary’s labor or delivery because He wanted all the emphasis upon Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.Nazareth shepherd

The common shepherds were the first ones who learned of the Savior’s birth and came to worship Him, their Creator, who “took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; And, being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:7-8. Emmanuel, God with us, who left heaven above, and came to earth to be my Savior. Born to die. Thank You, Lord Jesus, that You love me so much!

Charles Wesley captured this thought beautifully in the fourth verse of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”.

Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.

Hark, the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!

I pray you all may have a Christ centered celebration of the birth of our dear Savior!

20161218_200115

Oceanographer or Nurse???

“That ye might walk worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:10

March, 1971 – High School Junior – Midwest, USA

I thank the Lord that He has now given me peace and a purpose in life: to walk worthy of the Lord, serve Him, and increase in my knowledge of God.  My sister, Marsha, withdrew from the university pre-veterinary program and is now studying to be a nurse at a hospital diploma program. She comes home every weekend and teaches a Bible class for my high school friends and me. It is so wonderful to study the Bible, God’s love letter to me, so I can grow closer to Him!

I also am reading books in the home Bible study program and biographies of Christians which have been so helpful.  I especially like Major Bible Themes by Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Seminary. Notes on the Pentateuch by C.H. McIntosh has really helped me understand the first five books of the Old Testament. My favorite Christian biographies so far are By Searching and In the Arena by Isobel Kuhn, and God’s Man in China about Hudson Taylor. They both served God in China with the former China Inland Mission which Hudson Taylor founded.fav books sm

While she was a student in Bible school, Isobel Kuhn learned to put the Lord first every morning and spend time in Bible reading and prayer. So after reading “O God, thou art my God, early will I seek Thee; my soul thirsteth for Thee…” in Psalm 63:1, I asked the Lord to help me get up earlier so I could read my Bible and pray before I went to school. It is really wonderful to set my mind on the Lord in the morning and ask Him to teach me before I get so busy with school. When I oversleep, I really miss it! When I get home from school, I study my Bible for an hour before I start my homework. It amazes me how God multiplies the time and helps me do my homework faster! I also silently pray before I take a test at school, and God helps me figure out the right answer.

The past year, I have asked God to show me the way as to what career He would like me to pursue. Before I became a Christian, I wanted to be an oceanographer or landscape architect because I enjoy science, art, and the outdoors so much. But now, I want to work with people and hope to have opportunities to point them to the Lord Jesus Christ. I have considered becoming a teacher or a nurse. I think I would like to become a nurse like my sister because I like science, but I could still help people. Perhaps I could even teach nursing or the Lord will allow me to be a missionary nurse!

Reflection

Old and new electronic edition!

Old and new electronic edition!

And so the Lord led me to become a nurse. I think my concept of nursing was strongly influenced by the Cherry Ames RN series by Helen Wells which I avidly read in my early teens. The first book was published in 1944 during World War II and was a catalyst for many young women to join the Army Nurse Cadet Corps. Cherry went on to work in about 25 different fields of nursing! I was delighted to discover they are now available as electronic books. I smiled as I reread the first book, Cherry Ames, Student Nurse.

On her first day of nursing school, the Nursing Superintendent said to the new nursing probation students, “Let me remind you that you are going to need good health, intelligence, unselfishness, patience, tact, humor, sympathy, efficiency, neatness, plus plenty of energy for hard work.” A groan echoed around the room. “But let me remind you, too,” Miss Reamer said, “that nursing is the most rewarding of all professions for women. And frequently the most romantic and exciting,” she added with a twinkle in her eye.

Real nursing is not nearly as glamorous, but it is fulfilling. Although I never became a full-time missionary nurse, the Lord blessed me with several short term medical missionary trips to Belize, Honduras, and China, as well as a graduate nursing course in the Dominican Republic. Many opportunities have been given to me to point my patients, their families, and my co-workers to the Lord Jesus Christ, for which I thank Him. I never lacked for a job for long, never went hungry, and always paid my bills on time. God has proved Philippians 4:19 over and over again to me, “But my God shall supply ALL your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” 

So nursing has been good to me. There have been the challenges and frustrations that are part of any career, but it still gives me great satisfaction when one of my patients says, “Thank you so much for helping me today, Pam!”

By the way, I am so glad I never became an oceanographer since I later discovered that I am very prone to seasickness. I will share more about that in my blog about being a cruise ship nurse — for one week! Truly, God makes no mistakes……

Life Changing Letter

Saturday, January 16, 1971

I gazed out the window of our small stone home in the country and saw the mailman drive away. “I’ll get the mail, Mom!” I hurriedly put on my winter coat, hat, and mittens to brave the bitter cold. I ran down the gravel driveway, scooped the letters from the mailbox, and skimmed through them as I raced back to our warm home.

I was thrilled to see a letter addressed to me from my older sister!  Marsha was a freshman at the state university three hours away, so I didn’t see her often. When she came home for a visit in October, she seemed so happy, said her headaches were gone, and she broke up with her boyfriend because he wasn’t a Christian. She eagerly told me that her roommate told her how to become a Christian, and she started going to Bible classes on campus.

When she came home for Thanksgiving, she asked that we give her money for Christmas instead of presents so she could attend a missionary conference. As a sophomore in high school, I would never give up all my Christmas presents to attend some old dumb missionary conference!

Since she returned to school in January, I can’t stop thinking about how happy she is now. So I wrote her last week and asked her to tell me more about God.  I eagerly took her letter to my desk in my bedroom, closed the door, and began to read.

Dear Pam,

I would love to share with you more about God and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ! Even though we went to church every Sunday and heard about Jesus Christ, the pastor never told us that each of us needs to personally receive Him as Savior.  I am so glad my college roommate shared the good news about Christ with me our first night at college.  I went to a Bible study with her, and  I received Him as my Savior shortly afterwards. I am so thankful that I have a personal relationship now with Him for all eternity and my sins are all forgiven!

As it says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world (Pam) that He gave His only begotten (unique) Son, that whosoever (Pam) believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  This is the most important decision of your life because it decides whether you will spend eternity with God or perish forever without Him.  He loves you so much, Pam, that He died for you on the cross to bear the punishment for your sins.  After three days He rose again and lives in heaven today.

I asked the campus group at noon prayer meeting today to pray for you to receive Him as your personal Savior.

Love in Christ,  Marsha

I don’t think anyone has ever prayed for me before. I am so amazed that God loves me so much that He died for ME so I can be saved and be with Him for all eternity.  He knows all about how shy and insecure I am, and that I am so fearful of death ever since my cousin was killed in the Vietnam war.

As my tears flowed, I bowed my head and prayed,

Dear God, I come to You as I am– a sinner.  Thank You, Lord Jesus, for dying on the cross in my place for my sins and that You rose again from the grave.  I receive You now as my Savior.  Thank You that You love me so much! Amen.

When I opened my eyes, my heart was flooded with the peace and the joy of God, and my fear of death was gone!

path of life

Reflection

Dear Reader,

I would love to share with you in this blog how God led me to  become a nurse, and how He has taught me about Himself on the path of life.

If you have not received the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, I invite you and encourage you to do so now as I did over 40 years ago.  It has been so exciting to grow in the knowledge of my Savior and let Him lead me through the joys and the sorrows, the laughter and the tears.  I look forward to that day when He takes me to heaven above in His perfect timing! “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!” Revelation 22:20

Pamela, APRN

Tribute to Marsha Swinehart, RN – Part 1

Tribute to Marsha Swinehart, RN – April 10

This week, I would like to honor the life of my sister, Marsha Swinehart, RN, on her birthday, April 10. I also want to share some of the lessons God has been teaching me in the school of sorrow these past eight months.

I don’t think I ever would have become a nurse without her influence. She led me to the Lord Jesus Christ when I was 15 years old (See Life Changing Letter) and was my first Bible teacher. My birthday is April 9, so we always celebrated our birthdays together as we grew up. Mom often dressed us in matching outfits, so I thought that made us twins! Marsha was my best friend on earth and I still miss her so much, especially hearing her voice on the phone. But I wouldn’t wish her back to this old world, because I know she is gloriously happy in heaven worshiping and serving our dear Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Someday, in God’s perfect timing, we will be reunited in heaven above at the throne of our dear Savior.

Pam and Marsha celebrating their birthdays together.

Pam and Marsha celebrating their birthdays together.

Marsha went home to heaven to be with  Jesus Christ on August 12, 2015 after a year long battle with ovarian cancer. I thank God that I could be with her on the hospice unit during the last few days of her life here on earth. She not only only taught me how to live in Christ, but how to die in Christ. Her life verse was Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Pam graduated from high school and her sister, Marsha, RN graduated from nursing school the same day and time!

Pam graduated from high school and her sister, Marsha, RN graduated from nursing school the same day.

She left a rich legacy of numerous spiritual children from her 25 years as a Bible Club teacher, 30 years as a public health nurse, and the last ten years of her career teaching public health nursing at two different universities. Early in her career, she was a missionary nurse in the jungles of Suriname, South America. As a college nursing professor, she led student nurses on short term mission trips to New York City, Swaziland, and Dominican Republic.

She had us sing the beautiful hymn “Face to Face” at her memorial service.

What rejoicing in His presence, when are banished grief and pain,

When the crooked ways are straightened and the dark things shall be plain.

Face to face- O blissful moment! Face to face to see and know;

Face to face with my Redeemer,  Jesus Christ who loves me so.

On Easter Sunday (March 27) this year, I was really missing Marsha. But God encouraged me when I read the following thoughts on sorrow from a devotional book by Miles J. Stanford called None But the Hungry Heart.

Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us. 2 Corinthians 7:6

All of us are going to have sorrow, and none of us should miss its spiritual benefits. God’s purpose is to conform us to the image of the Lord Jesus. God had one Son, without sin, but not without sorrow. Sorrow reveals unknown depths in the soul, and unknown capabilities of experience and service. God never uses anybody to a large degree, until after He breaks that one. It takes sorrow to widen the soul. We cannot do good to others save at a cost to ourselves, and our afflictions are the price we pay for our ability to sympathize. He who would be a helper must first be a sufferer. We cannot have the highest happiness of life in succoring others without tasting the cup which our Lord Jesus drank. The school of suffering graduates rare scholars.

It is but a little while and He will appear to answer all inquiries and to wipe away all tears. I would not wish, then, to be of those who had none to wipe away, would you?

Some of Marsha’s favorite verses were Revelation 21:3-4 – And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.

Culture Shock in New England, USA

June, 1991

The huge moving van drove up the hill to my new condo and parked on the roadside. The men carried my 100+ boxes and furniture over the grass, through the sliding glass doors, and piled the boxes floor to ceiling in the living room. “Lady, you sure have a lot of books. Will they all fit in here?” I smiled and replied, “God willing!” I treasure all my Bible commentaries and missionary biographies.

After filling up my water bed with the hose, I put on the bed sheets, drove down the street to a fast food place for dinner, and came back home. I began unpacking the bathroom things, but quickly discovered I was too exhausted, so I fell into bed. The next morning, three ladies from church came to help me unpack, so I made good progress. Thankfully, all my books fit!

The following day, I drove down the street to the grocery store, but couldn’t find it. Nearly in tears of frustration, I went back home and called the assistant Pastor to ask for directions. He gently told me I had turned the wrong way, so I got back in my car and tried again. I’m finding I need to leave 15-30 minutes early before I go anywhere new to allow myself time to find it. I have a county map that usually helps me when I become totally confused!

September, 1991

It has been quite a summer for me. I absolutely love the new Bible church I am attending. The Bible teaching and music are wonderful, causing me to  dig deeper in the scriptures and grow in God’s grace. I have been richly blessed by the fellowship in the career group with about 20 single adults my age. I also attend a single ladies’ group of all ages that meets every Monday night in a retired lady’s home for dinner and Bible study. The church picnics, volleyball, and water skiing have also been great fun and times of sweet fellowship in the Lord.

I have been able to see quite a bit of New England including the mountains of Vermont, the elegant mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, and Acadia National Park. I survived my first hurricane on the way to Acadia. I have never seen rain blowing so hard totally horizontal! I was wondering why it was so difficult to keep the car on the road. When I pulled into a gas station, the owner said, “Ladies, they are shutting down the roads so you have to find a place to stay.” At the next highway exit, we checked into a room at a nice inn and watched in amazement the torrential rain and wind as we swam in the cozy heated indoor pool. I’m used to seeing tornadoes in the Midwest where I grew up, but not hurricanes!

Acadia view 1991

Misty Acadia National Park after Hurricane Bob

Cornwall CT covered bridge 1991

Cornwall Connecticut covered bridge

Vermont 1991

Pretty view in Vermont mountains.

The people at church are so friendly, but in general, the public is cool and distant. It’s difficult to get the grocery store cashier to even make eye contact with me or say hello unless I greet him first. Then he usually just grunts in reply. People are rude on the phone also. The traffic is congested on the highways and the drivers are terrible! They zoom in and out across all the lanes, never use their turn signal, and never seem to get caught by the police.

I’m trying to learn their terminology. Pop is called soda, a submarine sandwich is called a grinder, and I never heard of a calzone before! I discovered that it is an Italian stuffed pizza sandwich that you dip into tomato sauce. Very filling and quite good. I miss the German food of the Midwest. There are mostly Italian immigrants here, so there is an abundance of Italian restaurants.

One guy in the career group teases me about my Midwest accent. They say um-BRELL-a, but I say UM-brell-a. They say in-SUR-ance, but I say IN-sur-ance. I was talking with a lady at church whose young grandson was standing next to her listening. He turned to her and said, “Grandma, why does she talk so funny?” The Pastor grew up in Boston, so at times I have trouble understanding his accent. Some people leave out the “r” sound as in “quawtah” for “quarter”.

Since I moved here with no nursing job, I was relieved to have several dialysis job interviews within the first two weeks after my arrival. I chose to work in a large inner city hospital dialysis unit. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a disaster. They used three different type of dialysis machines from different eras, and the patients were divided into several small rooms. I felt unsafe walking in the early morning darkness from the employee parking garage a block to the hospital. It was so chaotic, understaffed, unsafe, and mismanaged that I developed severe stomach and back pain from the stress. I gave two weeks notice after working there for just a month.

One of the staff nurses told me about a new dialysis unit in the suburbs that sounded similar to my unit in the Midwest. I called the nurse manager, and she interviewed me. I asked if I could shadow a nurse for a few hours during the busiest time when they took patients off dialysis and then put the next shift on, and she agreed. There were 20 dialysis chairs in the large bright calm room, and the staff seemed happy to work there. They use new Fresenius computerized dialysis machines that are similar to the Cobe 3000 which I know. I can also park right outside the building which is in a safe neighborhood. The downside is that they work 13.5 hour shifts from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. three days per week. There is no cafeteria on site, so each staff member has to carry all three meals with them to eat during the shift. The nurse manager offered me the position, so I accepted. I hope I have the stamina to work the long shifts.

Sadly, I have to find a home for my dog, Sandy. While he is home alone so much, my neighbors complain that he barks nonstop. I have asked about 30 people at church, and gave his photo to the vet and groomer to post, but no takers yet. It’s hard to give him up since he is the only living thing I brought with me from the Midwest.

My expenses have doubled and I took a 30% pay cut from what I made in the Midwest. But all in all, I am happy I made the move. The spiritual blessings and new friends have greatly enriched my life. I’ve been told that a person needs to take at least a year to adjust to a new culture, so I will do that.

Thank You, dear Lord, for bringing me here and for providing my every need. Thank You for encouraging me in my spiritual walk and helping me grow in Your grace. Please help me adjust to the new job and long hours. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me…But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:13, 19

Reflection

It seems hard to believe that I have now lived here in New England for 25 years. In the summer, I still miss the miles of cornfields in the Midwest, but overall enjoy the more varied geography of New England. The cost of living has become even more challenging as the years have rolled by, but God continues to provide for me. I was able to purchase an 1880 colonial home one year after I moved here, although it was not as nice as my home in the Midwest. I’m on track to retire at age 62 rather than 57 which is what I would have been able to do in the Midwest. But the eternal spiritual blessings from God have far outweighed the earthly challenges, so I thank Him for leading me here.

 

Jesus Christ, Born in Bethlehem

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod, the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.” Matthew:2:1-2

Bethlehem, Israel – March, 2013

25,000 people now reside in Bethlehem, Israel

Modern day Bethlehem, Israel

Our tour group boarded our bus outside our hotel in Jerusalem and traveled 20 minutes to the city of Bethlehem which now has about 28,000 residents. We drove past the huge cement wall built between Palestinian controlled Bethlehem and Jerusalem to prevent the Arab snipers from shooting them. At the checkpoint, the security guard waved us through after our driver told him we were American tourists. Our day to visit Bethlehem changed since President Obama was scheduled to visit here in three days. We parked in an underground garage and walked several blocks uphill to the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site where Jesus Christ was born in a cave. We passed Muslim women dressed head to toe in black, brown, or gray burkas.

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

Construction began in 326 A.D. on this oldest church in the Holy Land which is still in use. It is separated into three different sanctuaries of the Franciscan Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox.

"Mouse hole" entrance to Church of the Nativity!

The tiny entrance to the Church of the Nativity prevented intruders!

We entered through a four foot high door with a foot high wall at the bottom. Our guide told us they built it this short purposely as a deterrent to any enemies! When an enemy entered all bent over, he couldn’t shoot anyone, but the person inside could knock him over or kill him easily. Only one person could enter at a time through the tiny door. It reminds me of the verse in John 10:7 where Jesus said, “I am the door; by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” How I thank Jesus Christ for saving my soul and giving me eternal life!

Then we wandered from one sanctuary to the other. It was quite interesting to compare the different architectural styles, the Armenian one being the most ornate. We waited in line about 20 minutes to see the glass covered hole in the floor that is supposed to be the actual birthplace of Christ.

Traditional birthplace of Christ.

Traditional birthplace of Christ.

Our Hebrew Christian guide, told us that in 1948 when the modern day State of Israel began, Bethlehem had all Christian residents, but now there are only about 40 families remaining. The Muslims won’t hire them, so all the Christian young people are leaving.

We went to a gift shop that an Arab Christian started to support these remaining families. The believers carve nativity scenes out of olive wood which are very intricate. I treasure the one I purchased that portrays Mary and Joseph gazing at the Christ child in the cave. I also learned the typical manger was made of stone, unlike the wooden mangers usually portrayed in America.

My olive wood nativity scene carved by Christians in Bethlehem.

My olive wood nativity scene carved by Christians in Bethlehem.

Reflection

As I recall my days in Labor and Delivery helping those babies into the world on Christmas morning in 1981, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone assisted Mary during her labor other than Joseph? It simply states in Luke 2:7  And she brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger. This is what the midwife or nurse would typically do who assisted the mother.  Midwives are mentioned in Exodus 1:15-22 who feared God and preserved the Hebrew male babies from Pharaoh’s wrath. “Therefore God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied, and became very mighty.” I do not think God gave any details about Mary’s labor or delivery because He wanted all the emphasis upon Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Shepherds of Bethlehem.

Shepherds of Bethlehem.

The common shepherds were the first ones who learned of the Savior’s birth and came to worship Him, their Creator, who “took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; And, being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:7-8. Emmanuel, God with us, who left heaven above, and came to earth to be my Savior. Born to die. Thank You, Lord Jesus, that You love me so much!

Charles Wesley captured this thought beautifully in the fourth verse of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”.

Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.

Hark, the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!

I pray you all may have a Christ centered celebration of the birth of our dear Savior!