A fictional story from many years ago that takes place in the bush country of Africa.
Tim and Karen weren’t sure if their visit to the strange hut was going to be successful or not. The young girl they’d discovered there seemed terrified and wouldn’t even talk to them. Inside, they found an old woman who was in an even worse state.
The children watched as their mother took food from her basket and offered it to the woman. The old lady took the flat cakes and after handing one to the girl, wolfed down the other as if she were starved. The girl still seemed frightened as she huddled in the corner, eating her cake.
It took a lot of coaxing before the old woman would talk but finally she told them what had happened to her.
Her name was Calda and she said, “My neighbors made me leave my home. I walked from village to village but no one would let me live with them—because of this.” She pointed to the rash and wounds on her arms and legs. “Then I found Sabu.”
She looked at the girl, almost tenderly. “No one wants her either. When I could not walk anymore, we found this hut. Sabu takes care of me. She fixed the hut as best she could and tries to keep a garden. But she is afraid to go into the jungle for fruit. Wild animals scared her when we were traveling and now that she is safe here, she won’t go back into the jungle.”
Tim and Karen realized that this old hut could have been God’s gift for the two just when they needed it but the old woman didn’t seem to think so. They could tell that she was bitter and discouraged. She apparently felt that the gods hated her and the spirits were angry because she had no gifts to give them.
“Why didn’t anyone want Sabu?” asked Mrs. Johnson finally.
“She does not speak. She does not hear. She just makes noises. But she takes care of me. No one else will.”
They spent a long time at the hut. Tim got water from the stream. Karen helped clean up the hut and she and Tim went out into the jungle and brought back fruit and nuts. When the Johnsons left them, the old woman smiled just a little and told them that yes, they could come back to visit again.
“Mom, that’s a terrible rash, isn’t it.”
“Yes,” their mother looked thoughtful.
“And the cuts….” said Karen.
“They’re called lesions,” said Mrs. Johnson.
“You think it’s leprosy, don’t you,” said Tim.
“Will we catch it!” asked Karen in alarm.
“No, it’s not as contagious as people think but we’ll take some precautions when we visit her. I can see why people wouldn’t allow her to live in their villages but it’s still very sad. People can be very cruel. ”
They went back the next day, Christmas Eve, and brought more food. The woman allowed Mrs. Johnson to take some tests with supplies from her medical kit. But she wouldn’t listen when the missionary started talking about God.
“The gods hate me. They send evil spirits to make me sick and crippled. I have no chickens to sacrifice or pay the witchdoctor. The gods don’t love me. They only hate.”
“Calda, we love you and our God does, too,” Mrs. Johnson told her. “And I have an idea. I know a place that you could go. There may be nothing that can be done but there’s no harm in trying. There’s a place where there are other people like you and there’s good food, enough for both you and Sabu. People won’t make fun of you there. Would you like to go?”
The children would never forget how the woman’s eyes lit up with unbelief that there was such a place. They knew where their mother meant. It was the mission clinic in the city. There was a leprosy colony there.
“Yes, of course. She may be able to be helped, too. There may be something that can be done about her hearing and speech. But if not, she can learn to talk with her hands. She’ll be tested as well for leprosy since she’s lived with you. But if she hasn’t contacted it, she might be better off living in a different place. But she could still see you….” Mrs. Johnson spoke very gently. She knew they wouldn’t want to be separated. “But I promise these people will know what to do.”
“I want what’s best for her,” said Calda. “She helped me when no one else would.”
They left with Sabu and Calda hardly able to believe that there was such a nice place as the mission clinic or such a thing as an airplane that would come to carry them high into the air to a new home.
It was Christmas Eve so the afternoon was very busy. The women came to the missionaries’ hut to fill their baskets with the food. They gathered up the bouquets of flowers, which were still fresh and nice. Before sunset, they walked through the village, singing and delivering their gifts at each house.
The people were surprised and happy with the strange custom from America and they were thrilled with the gifts. Many promised to come to the special Christmas service the next day.
But the next morning, the Johnson family was awakened early. Tim and Karen excitedly started to open the big box from Grandma and the packages from their church in America, while Mr. Johnson went to see why their Christian friends were gathered outside.
They didn’t look happy.
“What’s the matter?” asked Mr. Johnson. “It’s Christmas day! Why are you so sad?”
One man spoke up. “We are ashamed. We give gifts to our friends and neighbors but we have never helped the ones who needed it most.We have left them alone for years, not even knowing that they were hungry and in need.”
Another spoke up. “Look, we have gifts for the old woman and the girl. And food to last until the plane comes to take them away. Will you come with us to visit her?”
“Yes! Yes, of course, we’ll come! ”
How happy Calda was to hear the singing outside her hut and to see the smiling faces and gifts.
“Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas!” said the villagers.
Mr. Johnson explained what Christmas was all about.
Tears streamed down her face as she finally said, “maybe there is a God that loves Sabu and me. Now I understand. Happy Christmas to all of you, too.”
By Carol Bennett