Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars … my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Psalm 84:3,4 (ESV)
The droning of the airplane engine made my six-year-old body sleepy, but I also felt like throwing up. To soothe the nausea, I crossed my arms over my tummy and took three deep breaths, like Mom had taught me.
The right wing dipped. The single-engine Piper Comanche buzzed low along the clearing in the jungle, and the pilot pointed out the front window. “The plane just scared all the goats off the runway into the brush, so we’re now clear to land.” Then he added, “Look at your parents waving madly at us.”
I peered out my window and waved at the dozen people on the ground who looked no taller than my thumbnail. A sudden burst of joy filled my tummy, pushing aside the queasiness, and I concentrated on happy thoughts of family as we descended.
There’s Mommy and Daddy!
The wheels bounced twice as we touched down, and we bumped over small clumps of grass and dirt on the airstrip. The pilot taxied skillfully toward a small, tin-roofed storage shed, and parked. As soon as the propeller stopped, I scrambled out of my seatbelt, climbed over the front seat, and crawled through the open door. There the pilot took my hand, helped me across the low wing, and guided me down the steps. Then I jumped to the ground, my eyes quickly scanning the group of missionaries hurrying toward us.
There’s Mommy and Daddy!
Running pell-mell, I reached out to Mom, threw my thin arms around her soft middle, and pressed my face into her familiar, laundry-scented dress.
From behind her, my year-and-a-half old brother flew forward and knocked into my knees for a tight hug.
I’m finally, really home.
“Welcome back, Sweetie!” Mom said with a big smile that showed all her teeth. “I’m so glad to see you at last,”
“Me too, Mommy.” I lifted teary eyes to hers and said, “I’m never going back to KA. That place is too lonely without my family. I hate it there!”
Her light-brown eyes clouded over, and her red lips pursed for a moment. Hugging me tighter, she said, “I’m sure it’s not that bad. We’ll talk about it later.”
Life Back in Egbe
On Christmas Eve, all the mission families, from both the Titcombe College and Egbe Hospital compounds, gathered for a potluck dinner at my friend Betsie’s house. Strings of white fairy lights hung from the branches of tall trees on either side of her backyard, creating a bubble of brightness in the dark African night.
Yummy! You made macaroni and cheese
At a long table set up to the left of the porch, Mom placed two rectangular baking pans covered with tin foil. I peeked under the lids. “Yummy! You made macaroni and cheese,” I said. “And chocolate fudge too! I haven’t had fudge in forever. I really missed your tasty food!”
After we ate and set our plates aside, the joyful group sang Christmas carols. We had no song books, but the grown-ups belted out the hymns from memory—every single verse. Sitting on the ground in front of my parents, I hugged my knees and swayed back and forth as their beautiful voices flowed over me.
“Away in the Manger,” my favorite carol, told the story of the birth of baby Jesus, how his mother wrapped him in a soft cloth and made a cozy bed for him in the feed trough of a stable. With his mommy and daddy caring for him, the child slept peacefully. I pushed up ’til I reached Mom’s ear and whispered, “I’m glad the family is finally all together.”
Watching the other children sitting beside their parents, I felt safe in this circle of our close-knit, mission station family.
Once back home in my comfortable shorty-pajamas, just right for our warm, dry-season weather, I stood in front of the wooden nativity display on the bookshelf in our living room. I lifted the small manger, with Jesus lying on his bed of straw, and placed it right next to his mother’s knees.
Looking over my shoulder at our tree on the corner table, with the multi-colored lights, miniature ornaments, and glittery strands of tinsel, I let out a contented sigh. Being home with my family was the best gift of all, something no amount of money could buy and no stocking at KA could ever compare to.
A warm glow filled my heart. This is the meaning of Christmas, I thought. This is the meaning of home. I don’t ever want to leave my loving family again.
The smell of warm cinnamon rolls woke me on Christmas morning
The smell of warm cinnamon rolls woke me on Christmas morning. I ran with my messy hair through the living room, skidding to a stop on the linoleum floor in front of the breakfast table. I was the last one up. “Can we open presents right now?”
With a grin, Mom placed an icing-coated roll on my plate and said, “First eat your breakfast, Honey.”
Dad’s eyes twinkled, his trademark humor bubbling up. “Her name’s not Honey. It’s Debbie!”
I’d heard that joke a zillion times, but we all laughed, and it felt so right. Then Dad opened his well-worn Bible and read to us the Christmas story—the short version, because he saw our attention was focused on the presents under the tree.
Soon the living room floor was covered with wrapping paper, toys, and happy kids.
Jumping up, I hugged Mom, then Dad, and said, “I love my presents. But mostly I’m just glad to be back here with you guys.”
Once we returned home, I smelled the roasted chicken in the oven
Do I Get to Stay?
Strolling along the dusty, rutted road, we headed to the Nigerian church in the town. I pushed the stroller with baby Grant, until he hopped out and trotted along beside me. The warm, tropical sun felt good on my skin. I turned to my little brother Mark who held my hand, and told him, “Egbe is the place for me. It’s too cold on the plateau where KA is. I sure hope you don’t have to go away to school next year when you turn six.”
Once we returned home, I smelled the roasted chicken in the oven. On the table, Mom quickly set out the bread stuffing and deep-fried okra I’d helped her make the day before.
“Mmmm! We’re having all my favorites!” I said. “And I get to choose how much to put on my plate, don’t I? At KA the junior high servers always give me too much or too little.”
That night through my open bedroom door, I heard Mom say to Dad, “Debbie really doesn’t want to go back to school. Is there any way we can teach her at home?”
I didn’t hear Daddy’s answer, but I had an idea. Tomorrow I would tell him: “I can do my school work quietly at a desk in the back of your classroom every morning, while you teach mathematics to the older boys and girls at Titcombe College.”
Then he’ll let me stay home.
In Nigeria in the 1960s, only a few mission families home-schooled their children. They could manage it if the mother didn’t have an official, full-time job on the station.
My mom did, however. As the secretary for Titcombe College, she kept the school running, plus she taught classes in English and art. Add in cooking each meal from scratch, doing laundry with a wringer washing machine, and hanging all the clothes on the line, she had little extra time.
But I sincerely hoped they could figure out a way to keep me at home.
Link it to Your Life
When you were a child, was Christmastime a peaceful, joyful break for you? Or did you enjoy the structured life of the school year? What was one thing you wished your parents would have understood about you and done differently for you over the holidays?
Father, thank you that you understand me completely, and you’ve made a way for me to dwell in your home forever. Thank you that I can feel your presence wherever I am, especially when I sing your praise.