“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.” Galatians 6:10a
It was a bit of a challenge to procure our first Christmas tree in 1984 in Japan, but we had the opposite problem 27 years later when we almost had too many Christmas trees. Let me explain. Over the years, Christmas has steadily grown in popularity in Japan. Therefore, Christmas decorations, presents, and Christmas music have now become quite common, particularly in the more urban areas. But for many who lost everything in the 2011 tsunami, things looked pretty bleak as December 25th drew near. Most people in the area were unemployed and lived in temporary housing units with minimal possessions in very cramped quarters. Morale was understandably low, so the Japanese government decided to do something in an attempt to improve the situation. They provided Christmas trees. Literally dozens of Christmas trees were placed in each of the makeshift community rooms located among the many temporary dwelling sites scattered along the devastated coastline. While their intentions were good, this presented a problem. No one knew what to do with these trees. That is where we entered the picture.
Just a few months earlier, we had spearheaded a relief work along a significant stretch of the affected area but increasingly, we sensed God was calling us to limit our efforts to a particular location. But we wondered how we could possibly gain acceptance within this shattered community and earn their trust that would in turn, enhance our effectiveness. The unexpected solution… Christmas trees! The local governmental agency in charge of the area had heard of our work and knew we were Christians. Therefore, they asked if we would be willing to help with the decoration of these trees that were languishing unattended in all the community rooms. Recognizing an amazing provision by God, we leapt into action and along with many volunteers, initiated a frenzy of Christmas tree decoration activities.
We quickly put a serious dent in the local supplies of Christmas decorations from still-existing stores and immediately sent out a call for volunteers from across Japan to bring more when they came to help. We organized Christmas parties at each location and disaster victims eagerly embraced the opportunity to experience community again while decorating a tree. They chatted with neighbors while Christmas music played in the background and consumed the hundreds of Christmas cookies volunteers also brought with them. We distributed small gifts, played fun games, sang Christmas carols and hundreds heard the amazing story of God’s provision of a Savior for the very first time. Light entered into their darkness and it all began with a simple Christmas tree. Sometimes we did three to four parties a day racing from one location to another in what felt like an endless loop. But in the midst of our exhaustion we were awed and humbled to be part of these unexpected developments. It was a powerful lesson that the God who dramatically interjected Himself into history in a manger continues to intervene in human affairs through something as mundane as a Christmas tree. Each of those trees served as a vivid reminder that God loves people and cares passionately for the brokenness of our world.
Over the course of many months, we learned that the nature of relief work centers on opportunities to do good for people, which is actually a biblical command (Galatians 6:10). Good works come in many forms, almost always demanding some kind of sacrifice from us, but they all begin with an opportunity that is uniquely provided by God to accomplish His divine purposes. Our willingness to respond in faith and obedience is all He asks of us. He will provide the Christmas trees.