December 26, 2023

The Christmas Baby that Waited

If they would live, they must flee. But the baby was coming.

Stanley Maxwell
Photo by Taksh on Unsplash

The Adventist pastor’s feet pounded soundlessly against the dusty, parched path that ran between thatched-bamboo huts of his fellow Khmer refugees in Nong Samet border camp [located on the Thailand-Cambodia border]. The whistling swoosh of Vietnamese rockets flying toward the camp interrupted his concentration. Would their enemy, the Vietnamese, invade the camp today, on Christmas—the day of peace and goodwill to all?

A shell screamed as it arched toward the camp. The pastor willed himself to ignore the fact that more artillery fire than usual was dropping toward his camp. He had work to do. He must concentrate on his church’s Christmas play scheduled for this evening. He hoped this year it would persuade more refugees to join his Khmer Adventist congregation.

A rocket exploded nearby. It jolted his thoughts back to the Vietnamese. Were they moving their equipment closer to launch an invasion? Uncontrollable emotions welled up.

Why do the Vietnamese have control of my country? he wondered. Why won’t they go back home to Hanoi, where they belong? Is God allowing me and my people to suffer for our sins? Are Khmers, like God’s people Israel in the Bible, being made to suffer at the hands of their ancient bitter foes, the Vietnamese? Couldn’t God find a better way to bring us closer to Him than by making us suffer war and persecution? Why would God let Hanoi invade defenseless refugees on, of all days, Christmas?

An invasion did not worry him so much for his own sake; he had almost nothing to lose. He had lost almost everything when he escaped from his home in Kampuchea. He had fled once; he knew he would escape again.

He worried more for his wife. Pregnant, she had gone into heavy labor on Christmas Eve. He was excited about becoming a father—and, no less, a father of a Christmas child. But he wondered about his wife’s condition. If the baby came today—if it did—and the Vietnamese did stage an invasion, would his wife be able to escape safely to Khao-I-Dang camp, across Thailand’s border?

“Any Time Now”

Unconsciously he turned about-face to his tracks. The morning sun shone offensively in his eyes. The pastor tried to shield himself from the brightness by extending his hand to cover the obtrusive ball of light. His steps quickened on the dirt road toward the clinic. Would his baby be born today?

Inside the clinic the doctor forced a smile.

“How is she, Doctor?”

“Your wife’s in heavy labor. You’ll be a father any time now.”

“What about the Vietnamese?”

“If there is an evacuation, your wife will be too weak to walk to Khao-I-Dang. You’ll have to leave her behind. Maybe the Vietnamese won’t destroy the hospital.”

The doctor tried to end on an upbeat note, but he knew his words had not been comforting. “I’m sorry, Pastor,” he said. “Let’s hope there is no evacuation.”

“Could she make it to Khao-I-Dang if the baby didn’t come?”

“Her labor’s very heavy, Pastor. That baby is due very soon. But if she stops labor, the journey would be rough—I don’t think there’s much time left. Babies come when they want to come. Your baby won’t wait.”

“I will pray . . .” The pastor hurried out of the clinic.

He didn’t bother going to his church. The Christmas play was probably finished, or, more likely, canceled. Instead, he found himself heading toward home. He must gather his few belongings together, for the air was thick with doom. If he was to live, he must flee.

As he packed life’s essentials, he pleaded with God, “Lord, why do You let these unwanted and unfriendly guests visit us today on Your birthday? If it’s Your will, persuade the Vietnamese to stop attacking. But if they must invade us, please, if You want, perform a miracle for me today. Maybe I’m asking the impossible, Lord, but listen.” He realized he was praying aloud; his voice cracked, and his vision blurred from tears.

He stopped packing and knelt on his bamboo bed. “My wife will have a child soon. But if she delivers today, she and her baby will die at the hand of Vietnamese invaders. That baby makes a great Christmas present, Lord, but why take it away the same day? I’ve lost almost everything. Please, don’t take away my wife and child. Lord, let the baby wait until its mother is safe. This I pray in the name of Your Son, whose birth we celebrate today. Thank You. Amen.”

He stood on the packed-dirt floor, dried his eyes, and threw together his last few things. Time was running out. The Vietnamese approached. Their artillery fire was heavy. He could hear their tanks rolling.

On his way back to the clinic the pastor prayed silently. Would the Lord grant his prayer? Could his wife escape? Or must he flee alone?

“I Can’t Believe What’s Happened!”

Crowds from the camp were already trekking out toward Khao-I-Dang when the pastor pressed his way into the clinic. The doctor was still there, but the clinic showed signs that he too planned to evacuate. He had already packed most of the equipment, and the clinic stood almost empty.

The doctor saw the pastor and came over to him. “I can’t believe what’s happened. Your wife stopped having labor half an hour ago. Something like this has never happened to me before. I don’t know how to explain it.”

The pastor knew.

He saw his wife, large with child, smiling at him. “Can she make the trip, doctor?”

“I think she’ll be all right.” The doctor caught the pastor’s joy, and soon two smiles radiated from their faces.

A rocket’s sound reminded them they had better go. They bade the doctor goodbye and set off to Khao-I-Dang.

Their escape came none too soon. Soon Vietnamese tanks rolled in. Driving back and forth over the camp, they flattened every building. After the pastor and his wife crossed the border into Thailand’s safety, they looked back in time to watch their camp go up in flames.

A Christmas to Remember

So December 25, 1984, became a Christmas 62,000 Khmer refugees would never forget. That day they lost their homes, but all escaped safely into Thailand’s Khao-I-Dang camp. The Christmas baby was born in Bang Phu. The pastor and his wife thought no family was ever happier to have a child than they. Together they prayed, “Lord, thanks for the belated Christmas baby. Making it come late was the best Christmas present You could give us. We thank You that we escaped safely, and that everyone else in Nong Samet escaped death. Thank You for building our faith, for showing Your greatness through the miracle of the Christmas baby that waited.”