Sometimes Christmas comes when you least expect it. For me, the essence of Christmas arrived the first week of October. And I wasn’t even home. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
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I opened my tired eyes and looked outside the plane. The first blush of dawn touched the sky, highlighting the clouds below. Soon we would begin to see the miracles I’d only heard about!
The captain’s voice interrupted my reverie. “As we begin our initial descent into Moscow, please ensure your tray tables are in the upright and locked position.” I glanced at Greg, and he squeezed my hand. We’re almost there!
We, along with others from the Three Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN), were heading to Nizhny Novgorod in celebration of 25 years of 3ABN Russia. Twenty-five years ago, just after the Soviet Union collapsed, evangelist John Carter preached a series of meetings to thousands. I had heard stories about thousands of people congregating outside the hall, people who had spent a lifetime under incredible hardship and privation, who had waited years to own their very own Bible. I knew about the baptisms in the Volga River, and the start of 3ABN Russia on the heels of that campaign. But they were all just stories somehow. From a different time and place.
The reality turned out to be so much bigger, so much more “God-anointed” than I had ever imagined. The warmth and kindness of the Russian people, their dedication and sacrifice when it could have cost them their lives, was life-changing.
There was the little, wrinkled babushka, well into her 80s. We visited her home in the country, saw her outhouse and the steam room in her basement, along with her oven, which still heated her home. Her eyes sparkled when she told of keeping the Sabbath as a young mom, walking with her two sons along a frozen river to attend church. What kind of dedication did I have to my faith?
There was the conference secretary’s wife, who invited us into her home and served us tea. Over delicious Russian desserts she told the story of her childhood, of growing up under Communism. About the underground church and the need to hide from the authorities. How she had placed the typewriter on a pillow to muffle the sound, and as stroke by stroke she painstakingly typed the Sabbath School lesson so others could have a copy to study. What kind of sacrifice have I ever endured for my faith?
We met with conference leaders in 3ABN Russia’s facilities. Both the conference president and the secretary had come in under Carter’s campaign. They were young men then—one still in his teens—when they first heard the message of Jesus Christ, of deliverance from sin. Now here they were, leaders in the church! What kind of commitment did I possess?
That spirit of service, of sacrifices made to spread the gospel: this was the essence of Christmas! It’s that precious story all over again, of the ultimate Sacrifice, so we all can be free.
That’s when Christmas came to me this year. I want to keep it with me forever!
Jill Morikone is administrative assistant to the president of 3ABN, a supporting Adventist television network. She and her husband, Greg, live in southern Illinois and enjoy ministering together for Jesus.