December 9, 2019

The Christmas Baby That Waited

With the enemy advancing they had only one hope.

Stanley Maxwell

The Adventist pastor’s feet pounded soundlessly against the dusty path that ran between bamboo huts of his fellow Khmer refugees in Nang Samet border camp. The swoosh of Vietnamese rockets flying toward the camp interrupted his concentration. Would their enemy invade the camp today, 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 choose garments suitable for his performers’ costumes. He hoped this year his church’s Christmas play would persuade more refugees to join his 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 control my country? he wondered. Why won’t they go back 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 hand of their bitter foes, the Vietnamese? Why would God let Hanoi invade defenseless refugees on Christmas, of all days?

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, and the Vietnamese did stage an invasion, would his wife be able to escape safely across Thailand’s border?

“Anytime Now”

Unconsciously he turned about to face 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.

Inside the clinic the foreign doctor forced a smile.

“How is she, Doctor?”

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

“What about the Vietnamese?”

“If there is an evacuation, your wife will be too weak to walk. You’ll have to leave her behind. Maybe the hospital won’t be destroyed,” said the doctor trying to end on an upbeat note. “I’m sorry, Pastor,” he said. “Let’s hope there’s 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 just 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, prevent the Vietnamese from attacking. But if they must invade, please perform a miracle. 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 the 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. 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 toward Khao I Dang when the pastor pressed his way into the clinic. The doctor was still there, but the clinic showed signs that they too planned to evacuate. He had already packed most of the equipment, and the clinic stood almost empty.

The doctor saw the pastor. “I can’t believe what’s happened. Your wife stopped labor a half 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.

Soon Vietnamese tanks rolled into the village. 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 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. 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 were. Together they prayed, “Lord, thank You 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 Nang Samet escaped death. Thank You for building our faith, for showing Your greatness through the miracle of the Christmas baby that waited.”

This story first appeared in Adventist Review’s December 25, 1986, edition.