Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mud-Oven Bread Ministry

Thanksgiving 2013 is now a memory, and we look forward to Christmas. Stores in the United States are decorated, and shopping lists are made. Neighborhoods glisten with beautifully decorated trees twinkling in windows, and kitchens everywhere are filled with scents of freshly baked cookies. But the scene is different where I live.

My first thoughts about Christmas are not of sugarplums or decorations, not even of cookies or candy. My first thought is bread. Not just any bread, but bread baked in a mud oven. If you've never had a fresh, warm bun out of a mud oven you are missing out on a delicacy. The aroma rising from the oven, the crackling fire, and of course, the first bite as your teeth seem to smile as that bread glides over your taste buds. Bread is truly a Christmas blessing to many where I live in Bolivia, South America.

The world seems to put more emphasis on gifts, food, and decorations at Christmas than on the birth of our Savior. But Christians focus on the birth of Christ, and why He was born. Many take part in children's ministries in the U. S. and around the world at this time. They give of their resources so those less fortunate will be blessed with gifts at Christmas and, most importantly, hear about the One who was born on Christmas morn. As for me, Christmas does mean the giving of gifts and food, and yes, even bread. I am blessed to have a small part of a ministry for children who never get gifts. And with the gift giving comes an opening to share the Christmas Story, and the greatest Gift, with the people and children of the Andes Mountains of Bolivia. Most of them have never heard about Jesus or how He was born in a stable and died on a cross.

Every Christmas, we travel with our Bolivian church members to remote mountain regions. We take gifts and food to people and children living without even the basic needs. There are no twinkle lights or Christmas trees in their small, mud homes because there is no electricity, not even firewood. We buy toys for the children. Little trucks and baby dolls make their eyes pop with joy. We wash feet, cut nails, wash hair and remove lice from little children's heads. The little girls' eyes widen, and their lips curl upward when we tie bows and ribbons in their clean hair. Then the fun part comes. We reach into big burlap bags filled with mountains of bread and pull out the most wanted gift that everyone has come to receive. Bread. Shouts of joy and lines of fidgeting feet wait for their bread.

Can you imagine asking a child if he wants more bread or just candy, and he answers, "Just bread, please"?

One Christmas, little Paco met us coming into his village. He was wearing sandals made of old truck tires and had no sweater for the cold weather. We gave him a sweater to keep him warm and food for his tummy. His eyes lit up when he saw the gifts and candy, but what he wanted most was the bread––a real treat in the high mountains above the tree line where there is no firewood to bake bread. He was just five years old when he heard the story of Jesus for the first time. He accepted the gift of salvation joyfully and without hesitation. We not only gave him bread for his growling tummy but also Bread for his soul.

Last Christmas, our four year old grandson, Baden rushed downstairs on Christmas morning and shouted to his older brother, "Ben, come down and see your foot." His "foot" was stuffed with good things. I imagined those beautiful "feet" hanging from the mantel. I thought about the beautiful feet that are taking the Good News to the mountain people of Bolivia––Bolivians reaching their own people for Christ. They are enduring hardships to go to dangerous and hard to reach places so their own people can come to know Jesus and live with them in heaven forever. Beautiful "feet" (stockings) hanging on a mantel stuffed with good things for children of our country, while  thousands of miles away children received good gifts also from beautiful feet––feet that climbed the mountain to take them the best gift of all––the Bread of Life. "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry," John 6:35 (NIV)

Paco is just a little guy, but with a story that points to heaven; trust the Father, believe in Jesus and enter the kingdom with childlike faith. Paco may only have bread when we visit, but he will always have the Bread of Life. What a joy and privilege to give Christmas gifts to children who have nothing and are elated to receive a piece of bread. But, better yet, is the joy of seeing them receive the Bread of Life and become a child of God. They come to receive bread for their stomachs and walk away with Bread for their souls. For me, Christmas is giving bread from a mud oven and the Bread from heaven.

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