Erna and her family join dozens of her friends for the Christmas celebration at the Compassion partner church.
It started in the corner of the dark sanctuary. A whoosh, a small flickering light, the smell of wax.
Fire to wick, one by one, the light spread. Soon, dozens of bobbing, flickering candles filled the room. Each glow illuminated a child's face. Each face shone with the joy of Christmas. For now, the joy overshadowed the poverty just outside the door of the small church.
In the densely populated city of Antapani, Indonesia, there is little reason for celebration most of the year. Day laborers earn little more than U.S.$2 a day, and families struggle to feed and clothe their children. Ninety percent of children will never graduate from high school, and the cycle of poverty continues with each generation.
NEW HOPE WITH JESUS
This scarcity of hope is one reason Christmas is so important to the staff at the Alat Pemulihan Student Center. Every December, they hold a special candlelight service to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to share with families of Compassion-sponsored children the hope of Christ.
Erna was among the dozens of children sitting in the candlelight this year. Her dark eyes shone as she snuggled between her aunt and grandmother on the hard wooden pew. Erna is no stranger to poverty. Her parents divorced when she was a toddler, and neither felt they could take care of their daughter. Erna's grandmother and aunt took her in, but they struggled to support her. Many days they had to beg the neighbors for rice so the growing child could have at least one meal.
When Erna was 8, her grandmother enrolled her at the Compassion-assisted child development center. This was her first Christmas in Compassion's sponsorship program.
Every afternoon in the days leading up to the Christmas celebration, she had run home to tell her family about the ornaments she'd cut out. She enthusiastically practiced the carols she learned, her voice filling each corner of their small cinderblock home.
THE PASSION OF CHRISTMAS
When the celebration arrived, Erna and her family trudged through the muddy streets to the warmly lighted church. The evening started with a reading of the nativity story, and Erna sat in rapt attention. Afterward, small bags of treats were handed out, and Erna chattered excitedly with her friends.
On this night in this largely Muslim community there were no dissensions or political arguments. The adults saw the joy in the faces of their children, and any would-be arguments were quieted.
Now, as Erna's candle burned lower, she knew it was almost time to go home. She joined her friends at the altar, her prayers floating upward like the smoke drifting from her candle.
She prayed for her parents prayed that God would keep them safe wherever they were. She prayed for her grandmother and aunt, and for her friends at the center.
Finally, with her flickering candle lifted high, Erna thanked God for the center, for her sponsor, and for Jesus.
That night as Erna and her family walked through the chilly air, she didn't notice the mud-splattered sidewalks or the cigarettes burning on dark street corners. When Erna closed her eyes, she could still see the flickering candlelight that filled the church. And that kept her feeling safe and warm.
And for another night, the darkness was chased away by the light.
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