Laura (not her real name) was my first Christmas child in Africa. She was seated on a bench outside the church with her friends. I went and sat next to her. We were total strangers to each other. She smiled and slowly took my hands in hers. She didn’t say a word and neither did I. We sat there for a while without uttering a word. I felt good. Imagine that was my first day in Africa. A missionary in a far- away land made to feel at home by a child. What a great gesture! What a sacred moment. I said to myself, “I am blessed, am no more a stranger in Africa because I have a friend”. Gradually we became good friends. Laura was in class three. She was the only child of a single mother. Her mother was a government employee and an alcoholic. Laura used to share her story with me. She was a victim of verbal and physical abuse. One day I saw her with some bruises on her face and the left eye. Initially she wanted to avoid telling me the truth. Later on she said that she was beaten up by her mother and as she fell to the ground her mother climbed and stood over her. Then jovially she added, “at times to escape the beatings I pretend as dead and then Mum used to leave me alone”.
Laura lives on the second floor of a government quarters with her Mum. On a Sunday she invited me to her house for a lunch. As we were walking towards her home suddenly she went into a shop and bought some meat. Once home, she cooked rice and meat for lunch. I remember still the meal we shared together. It was in the year 1999. I remember well how she accompanied me up to the main road as I left her home. Though she was only a child of nine years her maturity level was that of an adult. I believe the harsh realities of life can make a person mature prematurely. After a couple of years I was transferred to some far- away place and lost touch with Laura. Later on a friend of Laura told me she is in a boarding school and is about to finish her secondary. However, I used to remember with love, Laura and her hospitality.
A missionary has no permanent abode. He goes where he is sent, where he is needed most. Now back in Laura’s township once again I started the search for my First love. How can I forget Laura? Her innocent smile! Her hospitality! Her jokes! By the way her second name is Washinga! So I asked her one day how come your name is Washinga? With a smile she told me that she was born when her mom was washing the clothes!! Do you know my Laura, Have you seen my Laura, I asked people in vain? I was not ready to give up my search. I believe in the providence. I know nothing ever happens by chance. I believe everything is in the plan of God. And then one day I got in touch with a person who said she knows Laura and where she lived. I requested her to give Laura a simple message: “Father James would love to see you”.
Laura is into drinking and prostitution and I don’t think she will come to see you. I was literally shocked to hear it. I didn’t want to believe my ears. Jesus Christ, I said, my Laura is into..No..no way..it is not possible. I know her as a child..She can’t..she won’t ..I was lost for words. It is interesting to see how love can blind you. I knew Laura as a child. Now she is a young lady. I am not ready to accept the fact that people change and people can change!! My stupidity? I stood still. I was quiet. Will she come? Will she not come? An inner voice said, Of course Laura will come to see you. In any case, I said; please tell Laura, Father James would love to see you.
On a fine morning after about ten days I was told that I have a visitor. Lo and behold it was Laura. We greeted each other with a customary embrace. I removed an album from the shelf and showed the photograph I had taken in 1998. She was pleasantly surprised. She looked at the photo once again and smiled. Today Laura is a mother of two children. Yes, two children from two men. She told me that her mom died and she was evicted from the government quarters. Since she had nowhere to go she moved in with a guy whom she thought loved her. Somehow it did not work out and then she got entangled with another guy. That too did not work out well for her. Now she lives with her two children. A single mother like her mom!
I intend to invite Laura with her children for Christmas to my place. I know that life was and is tough out there for her. I have to find ways and means to help rebuild her life if that is what she wants. I want to see that her children get a good education. I want to see her as a responsible mom. I feel pained to see her in the condition she is in today. She is not just a number in the statistics. She is a person with flesh and blood like you and me. She has a human face. She has a name. She is Laura. . She is a human incarnation.
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year- happiest of all seasons for me. I love the joy and the warmth of the season. Christmas means so much to me. The memories of cribs and carols. Memories and memories. Life is made up of memories. The memories I cherish and hold dear. Every Christmas reminds me of God’s unconditional love for us. God in human form and condition, weak, vulnerable, exposed. This is the incarnation we celebrate. This is a celebration of life, a celebration of joy. Yes my life and your life. Now we are invited to share this joy that our joy may be complete. I am grateful to my God and humanity. I am grateful to Laura, my First Love. She is my Christmas gift this year. Dear Friends, I wish you all the joy of Incarnation.
Fr. James Mailady Svd