Jenny Christie reflects on a popular Christmas story as she considers the transformation that comes from engaging with real stories and real lives.
In the early pages of Charles Dickens's perennially popular novella, A Christmas Carol, the main character Scrooge displays his disdain for humankind. Two men come calling on Christmas Eve to fundraise for the poor and destitute, many of whom would rather die than end up in the poor house. Scrooge’s attitude to such folk is clear when he states “If they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.”
Later in the story, Scrooge is taken by the 'Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come' to a deprived part of London and the house of his poorly paid clerk, Bob Cratchitt. Scrooge silently observes Bob’s family mourning the loss of their young son Tiny Tim, whose death from illness might have been prevented had they had more income. Scrooge is deeply moved by the tender scene of sadness and despair mingled with humility and thankfulness for the life of Tiny Tim. Then the ghost reminds him of his earlier words to the fundraisers in his office…“If they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.” Scrooge is greatly chastened and saddened by his former attitude – his heart is beginning to soften.
This story brings me to tears on an annual basis, especially when performed by Michael Caine in the Muppets' Christmas Carol and when I watch it alongside my own children. Something happens to Scrooge when he actually sees the Cratchitt family first-hand and bears witness to their experience. Scrooge’s observation is part of leading him to becoming a new man with a heart for kindness and justice.
The stories that we, at CMSI, regularly tell are an attempt to provide an insight into the real lives - struggles and trials, hopes and achievements - of our Global Partners, as they walk by faith in Christ. These stories regularly chasten us as we learn from our Christian brothers and sisters across the world. They motivate us to think, act and respond in new ways.
In my own role as Administration Coordinator for CMSI, I often see these responses first hand: opening the post to see a handwritten note from a supporter who was greatly moved by a recent story we shared on the drought in Kenya - notes like these are often accompanied by an offer of prayer over our work and a donation; when one of the CMSI family calls in person and hands me an envelope of cash, because they wanted to respond to those displaced from their homeland because of civil war in South Sudan; when I book the airline tickets for teams and individuals who have felt called to visit and spend time with our Global Partners in order to strengthen a parish link and build up the family of God.
Many of CMSI’s members and supporters have already grasped, and are trying to live out, Jesus’ call to love God and love others. The stories from our Global Partners encourage them to keep going with this call. For others, like Scrooge, as Dickens describes his wonderful transformation from miser to carer, the Holy Spirit can mightily use these real-life stories of love and perseverance within hardship to radically transform hearts. Scrooge went on to become “…as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew…” May we have hearts that hear God’s call to us as we listen to the stories we are told.