NORMAN — I spent Christmas last year on a Forward Operating Base in the Paktya Province in Eastern Afghanistan. I was deployed there as part of the Oklahoma National Guard’s mission to train the Afghan National Army. This wasn’t the first time I had spent Christmas away from home — I was in Kabul in 2003 and I spent the 1985 and 1986 Christmases in France where I was serving as a missionary for my church.
Last year was a little different. I woke up early Christmas morning and joined my family and friends through Skype in our Norman home for Christmas Eve and the traditional Nativity that we acted out every year. My job was to narrate the production by reading chapter 2 of Luke. A few poignant verses struck me as I read:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And 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, good will toward men (Luke 2: 8-14).”
Later that evening and in the spirit of good will, we invited our Afghan counterparts to share Christmas dinner with us in the dining facility on our base. Security was always a concern since our gate was hit with a suicide bomber the year before. To make it easier and less offensive to our Afghan guests, we had them board a bus and used an ordinance sniffing dog to check the whole bus at the entry point without having to separately search each individual we brought on base.
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner together sharing many Christmas traditions including stories, food and eggnog (which the Afghans referred to as “sweet milk.”) As we visited that evening my thoughts drifted back to my family in Norman. I imagined what they were doing as the Christmas Day was just unfolding. I had an overwhelming feeling of peace, not only for the peace and comforts my family was experiencing, but also at that time and place in a war torn country with Afghan friends. They were not of my faith, but we shared the same vision and mission to help foster a more peaceful world in the midst of fear and anxiety.
Our Savior Jesus Christ proclaimed: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:7).”
May we all experience His peace in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in this Christmas time and year round.