It was a cool, cloudy day in Mondulkiri, and my mood matched the weather. Two months earlier, I had volunteered to lead the school’s Christmas program. All had gone well for a couple of weeks, and two teachers were beginning to translate the nativity play we had selected into Khmer. Then a few foreigners in the capital tested positive for COVID-19. Soon the total rose to about 20 people, and Cambodia went into lockdown. Shops in Mondulkiri began to require masks and sprayed money with hand sanitizer. Our project school, like all other schools across the country, shut down for two weeks. We continued planning for the program, though, sending our 150 students home with practice materials. We were excited about the school reopening, with just two weeks to find actors, costume them, and rehearse the play. Then, on short notice, the national Department of Education extended the school closure indefinitely. There was no other choice—we couldn’t continue the program. The school board made the unavoidable choice to cancel the big program, downsizing to a program with just the staff and their families.
Somehow, though, I didn’t get the full message. It was a week later, on Wednesday evening, when I learned that I was still supposed to direct the program, and that the board expected that we would continue preparing for the play as planned. We had exactly a week to finish the translation, find singers and actors, teach the English songs, and organize decorations, props and costumes. It took the rest of the week just to assign jobs.
We say that everything is twice as hard in the mission field. In the days before the program, it seemed that we encountered every problem imaginable. My only assistant who was proficient in Khmer language and culture broke two bones and spent the rest of the week in the hospital. I got food poisoning. I spent an hour solving printer problems just to print the script for the play. But God was working, too, and I was extremely thankful for that. The staff were happy to help with decorating, food prep and costuming.
Now it was the morning before the program, and there was still a lot that needed to be done. My mind zeroed in on one thing—the stable. The previous year, the student missionaries had built a makeshift stable out of cardboard the night before the program. I tend to be perfectionistic, and I balked at the thought of using a cardboard stable. The prop was now falling to pieces and unusable anyway. However, we didn’t have enough time to build another stable, certainly not the sturdy wooden one I wanted. I reminded myself multiple times throughout the morning that this was God’s program. We had asked Him to guide and take control of it, and all I needed to do was my best and trust Him with the rest. The other preparations were going well, and that afternoon we gathered for a rehearsal of the program. The gym was decorated beautifully, with balloons stretching its length and red, pink and yellow surrounding the stage. A Christmas tree and a little grass hut sat on opposite ends of the stage. Lindsay and Daisy, two of the SMs, had prepared the actors and singers. Serena ran the sound system. It wasn’t quite perfect, but for the amount of time we’d had, it was amazing how prepared everyone was. I tried to ignore the fact that we had no stable.
In language and concepts familiar to Khmer culture, the play told the story of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men as each was led by God to Bethlehem at precisely the right time. The rehearsal culminated when the actors pulled the little grass hut out to center stage and placed the manger under it, and Mary and Joseph entered with their baby, followed by the shepherds and wisemen.
I could hardly believe it. Nobody had asked the decorators to find a stable, but they had done so anyway. And just as 2,000 years ago God fulfilled His promise to humanity, He fulfilled His promise to me that night.
The Christmas program the next day went perfectly. Besides the school staff families in attendance, dozens more watched online. All of us could see many ways God had intervened to save the program. And I learned firsthand how much God cares about our seemingly insignificant problems the day He answered my prayer by sending a little grass hut to serve as a stable.