A simple nativity pageant was meaningful gift in west africa

In West Africa, far away from family, friends and our Christmas traditions for the first time, we found ourselves searching for something meaningful - a gift, perhaps, from us to our brothers and sisters in Kumasi, Ghana, where we were serving as missionaries from September 1991 to March 1993.

Most people there have very little. There are no Christmas trees, few gifts are bought and given. There are no feasts on groaning tables filled with turkey, ham and pumpkin pie.But the carols sung and the Christmas story read and re-read from old and tattered Bibles filled our hearts with a profound sense of love and appreciation for the wonderful people of Ghana. So, our gift to the saints in Kumasi was to plan with the district activity chairman, Edmund Osei, a Christmas Nativity pageant, a re-enactment of the story of the Christ Child.

We had lived in Canada for 23 years. In Calgary, Alberta, members in five stakes take turns putting on an outdoor Nativity pageant each year. On a snowy hillside, they act out the Christmas story, complete with live animals.

We modified the pageant to fit our circumstances in Ghana. A cast was chosen, and simple props of the stable and star, the inn and animals were made. Costumes were made of bed sheets and towels. Kintey, The "Ghanaian Cloth" that most men wear on special occasions, was ingeniously draped to resemble the robes of the wise men and the garments of the shepherds. Gold foil saved from candy wrappers was used to make King Herod's crown. Shepherds' staffs were made from broom handles; coat hangers were used for the crooks.

The Christmas story as recorded in the gospels of Luke and Matthew were read over a loud speaker by a narrator. Recordings of Christmas carols by the Tabernacle Choir were interspersed with and used in the background. As the story was being told, the cast silently acted it out.

At our first Christmas in Ghana, the pageant was presented inside the meetinghouse. A cardboard drawing served as the donkey upon which Mary rode into Bethlehem. The next year, we decided to stage it in the courtyard and to use live animals.

The pageant was presented two evenings, with two different casts to allow as many to participate as possible. Two weeks before the pageant, curious friends and neighbors watched through the gate of the courtyard as the stable and inn were constructed. All the props were built in sections so they could be taken down and re-assembled to be used another year. Extra lights were hung. A feeling of excitement and anticipation pervaded.

For last year's pageant, one of the members borrowed a donkey, and led it a couple of miles to the meetinghouse courtyard. When the time came for Joseph to lead the donkey into the courtyard with Mary riding it, the animal was overcome by "stage fright." He stubbornly refused to move. The cardboard drawing of the donkey used in the previous year's pageant was quickly brought out, and Mary entered the courtyard with it at her side.

The inn keeper stole the show with his cameo performance of a very irritated, over-worked and sleepy man, unjustly kept from his bed, as he limped across to the stable with Mary and Joseph, lighting the way with his lantern. After the pageant, many of the children were seen trying to imitate his slow rheumatic walk while carrying his lantern.

Mary looked lovely, wearing a white dress with a blue headpiece and sash. Joseph, walking beside her in his brown carpenter's attire, looked the concerned husband.

The saints of Ghana love the Christmas story, and they love to act. They know the story, and much of the Bible, very well. They can quote verse after verse. To see those faithful saints, who have little but are so devoted, gave Christmas a deeper meaning in our lives. The experience of Christmas in Ghana reminded us there are so many more important things than going to the store and buying gifts. We feel fortunate we were able to share two Christmas seasons with the humble saints of Ghana.

At the conclusion of the pageant there were no refreshments served, gifts given or Santa with bags of treats for the children; only the echo of "O, Holy Night," "Away in a Manger," and "Silent Night," which would fill their hearts and ours with a deep sense of gratitude and love for the Christ Child and each other. Those two Christmas experiences will always remain in our hearts and memory as ones that were truly centered around the Christ Child.

As the season again approaches, our thoughts return to our faithful and deeply loved brothers and sisters in far away Ghana.

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