Our Mercy Children don’t really worry about time and space. So yesterday and today and even tomorrow all become “the right now." If a story rings true to them, they “buy in.” Our kids are unerring, and I’m sure yours are also in spotting the Real from the Fake. They like the Christmas story. So here at Mercy, we celebrate Christmas every day but more especially on December 25th following our Sacred Traditions.
This year the children are planning their own Christmas pageant. First rule: no adults allowed. Then a serious game of rock/paper/scissors to decide who could play the lead roles of Joseph and Lady Mary and Baby Jesus and Donkey and the now-grown-up puppy dog given to Baby Jesus by the shepherd children.
But before that, this is how our Mother Maria re-told our Christmas story for 2012 in Klong Toey – Mercy Centre.
Work was often scarce in Nazareth town for Joseph the carpenter/stone mason. Sometimes he had to travel: make day trips to work in neighboring towns. If his work was near by, Joseph would take the boy Jesus along while leading their donkey carrying the work tools. Joseph teaching Young Jesus to become a Master Carpenter. Mary would prepare food for them as they left at dawn. "Be careful. Be Safe."
Our sacred books say that before their flight into Egypt, before Mary giving birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, before the Star arising in the East and the Magi’s visit to Bethlehem, coming to worship; bringing Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh --when the Angel Gabriel asked and Virgin Mary consented to be the Mother of Jesus -- the Mother of God, Gabriel also told Virgin Mary that her cousin Elizabeth (who was of an age) was pregnant. Her son would be named John the Baptist. Virgin Mary decided to travel the 80 kms to visit – to help. Joseph, who was engaged to Lady Mary, said “It’s madness that you travel alone.” Then Joseph spoke to Donkey. It’s a five-day journey with robbers all along the way. Donkey, you have to carry her and you must be gentle. You must be alert at night also – make noise to warn us if bad men come around.” Joseph walked while Mary rode the donkey. They traveled from Nazareth town to the foot hills where Cousin Elizabeth lived.
Even now, eight years later, back home again, living off the main road by Nazareth, Mary and Joseph felt they could never ever be safe enough. They tried to lead a normal family life, but were always looking back over their shoulders, never quite sure if Herod’s soldiers knew. When they killed all those children in Bethlehem, trying to kill Jesus over eight years ago, did they know that Jesus had escaped that horrible night, that they had been warned by the Angel’s strong loud voice in a nightmare dream to Joseph? "Go! Now! Run!"
Mary wrapped Infant Baby Jesus against the cold winter night. Joseph asked his donkey, "Donkey, can I trust you? You must carry Virgin Mary and Infant Baby Jesus to Egypt. You must not falter, not stumble, no matter how rough the road might be.”
Yes, the memories of those eight years ago…. How would they survive? Virgin Mary had kept some of the gold given by the Magi. Would there be enough, or almost enough, until their arrival at the border of Egypt - avoiding robbers - to survive until Joseph found work? And memories of how Mary kept the Myrrh used to anoint the dead, with a premonition, somehow knowing as women do of the ominous days to come.
Fleeing into Egypt that very night, Joseph walking-running, Mary cradling the infant Baby Jesus in her arms, riding on Donkey. Traveling by back roads, trying to go unnoticed to avoid soldiers or strangers. That was eight years ago, but even today, this new Herod – son of the old Herod - would still kill them for sure if he knew Jesus were alive.
They’d settled down in Nazareth – their home before “the troubles” – a good place to raise a child. Off the main roads, one water well. A place no one noticed. And of course, the evenings were quiet, in those days before electricity, radio, T.V. mobile phones. And Jesus loved to ask Mary and Joseph to tell over and over the story of his birth.
And so it is in our Mercy House as Mother Maria tells our children the Christmas story. And about Donkey and the grown up puppy dog the Shepherd children gave to Jesus. It’s true, we can’t find much in the original Latin and Greek Scriptures but in telling these stories, legends have been passed on by tradition through the centuries, and thus are truer than true.
Our children ask Mother Maria which Bangkok City bus do they take from Klong Toey to visit Baby Jesus. And what is Jesus’ favorite food? And would Donkey be able to pull their three-wheel cart that they ride on for fun and give them a ride? And could they play with puppy dog now grown up? And they ask Mother Maria, how did the now-grown-up puppy dog go with them into Egypt? And then they answer their own question, that St Joseph carried him in his sack. Cuz when Baby Jesus took a nap, for sure puppy dog slept next to him.
They decided in their make believe world that they would charge money for a ride in the cart pulled by the donkey and give the money to Baby Jesus...since Jesus loves everyone; and they knew he would share the money, so they could buy candy.
We wish you all a wonderful Christmas.
Shortly after the 2004 tsunami, we began serving a destitute ethnic Moken community living on Koh Lao, an island just off the coast of Ranong. When we first encountered this sea gypsy community, Fr. Joe notes, “They were literally starving to death. There was nothing to eat. One in five women died in childbirth. The children had no energy to run or play. They didn't even recognize basic foods such as bananas. There was no concept of how they should live on dry land.."
We wish to share an article written by Irish journalist Patrick Butler about his recent vist to Koh Lao. The Nov. 26 article, published in the Irish newspaper, The Daily Business Post, appears on this link.
When we started our home-based care program in 1999, our goal was simply to get our hospice patients back home with their families. We were homecare pioneers in Thailand and thus had no local organizations to turn to for advice and counsel. So we learned on the ground.
Today organizations and governments turn to Mercy for advice and counsel when they start their own community home-based programs.
Recently we have been helping organizations in Bhutan and Laos, and last week we provided a practicum on community-based HIV/AIDS care for the Mae Tao Clinic, the major health service provider for displaced Burmese and ethnic people along the Thai border.
Photos above and below: Mercy homecare social workers provide a practicum in community care along the Thai-Burmese border for staff of the Mae Tao Clinic.