REFLECTION ON CELEBRATION
14 December 2020
We celebrate the Ministry of our Founder and Curriculum Developer this Christmas season with reflections from Dr. Phyllis Kilbourn on her 50+ years of Service with her retirement letter. Merry Christmas from the CCTI staff!
I shall speak of the power of your awesome acts. And I will tell of your great deeds. I will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
Phyllis’ Retirement Letter
Everyone loves to receive an invitation to celebrate some special day or accomplishment. Even in Biblical times, people had many days set aside for special celebrations. Like us today, they knew a celebration would be a time when friends and families joyously gathered together. According to the dictionary, a celebration is “a time described as acknowledging a significant day or event that is marked with social gatherings and other fun-filled and joyous activities.”
In October, I was told I would receive a special invitation; I was to look for it.
When it came, I was surprised to discover that the celebration was for me! After more than fifty years of serving in missions with WEC International, I was retiring. The staff of both Rainbows of Hope and Crisis Care Training International, projects for holistic care of children in crisis I had established, decided it was time for a celebration! For me, it would be a time to celebrate God’s faithfulness and His “awesome acts…and great deeds” through many years of serving Him.
On the appointed day of celebration staff, both local and some from further away gathered. The celebration started with lunch, all prepared by our favorite ROH and CCTI chefs. I found the table was not only set with a delicious spread of food, but it also held a spectacular bouquet of flowers and a beautiful celebration cake. Over lunch, we enjoyed getting reconnected and were greatly encouraged by sharing God’s blessings in their various projects. Following lunch, we had a great video of greetings from people who had been or still are involved with ROH and CCTI. Accompanying the video was a “memory book” with more encouraging letters and cards. Realizing the joy my celebration brought to me, along with the fact that Christmas is ushering us into a new season of celebration, I began to reflect on various celebrations that had been special for me.
The first meaningful celebration I could recall was when, as a teenager, I attended church youth camps.
We had a week of fun-filled days and ended each day’s activities sitting around an enormous bonfire roasting marshmallows to make S’mores. (Remember those gooey chocolate and marshmallow treats?) The campers joyously sang songs and took turns sharing their experiences of God’s “awesome acts and great deeds” in their lives. I looked forward to those bonfire times of sharing that assured me of God’s faithful provision for all my needs.
My reflections then brought to mind the many times during my mission work in Liberia I had witnessed joyous celebrations: at the birth of a baby, for school achievements, or when there was a good rice crop.
But the celebration that is indelibly etched on my mind was birthed out of intense suffering. Having lived in Liberia’s most intense war zone among the rebel’s targeted tribal group, I understood a little of their pain. I had joined them in war-time activities such as helping find ways to keep their children safely hidden, or helping families escape death by arranging night-time border crossings to a neighboring country and sometimes just struggling to keep up with the ever-changing curfew times. The rebels’ strategy was one of intimidation. So when the order came to evacuate, we knew there would be no guarantee of surviving the 300-mile trip out of the rebel-held area. Two missionaries and hundreds of Liberians had already lost their lives and the churches were closed.
It was with great joy when, three years later, I was able to return and join the church in their first post-war annual conference. My heart ached as I realized the suffering they had endured and the war was far from ending. Yet over 500 had gathered for a festival of praise for God’s blessings and His working in their lives during the times of deep trauma.
That first night they gathered around the campfire, praising God with joyous singing and dancing. Their words of testimony showed their spiritual growth and maturity. They, like the Psalmist, had experienced the “joy of the Lord as their strength.”As they prayed, they had faith to believe God was able to help them as they faced the unknown future. Instead of blaming God for their pain, they implored God to “keep them growing”.—to help them stop “playing church” and be more serious about following His ways. Through their joyous expressions of praise and victorious sharing around that campfire, I witnessed real worship. I was reminded that celebration occurs when people never lose hope and hope is strengthened by celebrations within the faith community.
Celebration should be a hallmark of the church today.
Just as the shepherds rejoiced when the angels brought them the good news, “a Savior is born,” may we, too, joyously celebrate the most extraordinary event that this world has ever hosted. The shepherds celebrated a special birth; the invitation to join in the celebration is recounted in Luke 2; 10-14:
Then the angels said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’… Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.
These verses tell us why shepherds celebrated the birth of Christ—their long-awaited Messiah had come… May we, too, in the midst of our upcoming Christmas celebrations, search for the answer to the question the shepherds doubtless asked, “What does this celebration mean to me?” The answers you discover will give you a joy-filled and meaningful Christmas celebration.