Two Americans answered an invitation in 1994 from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public institutions. They taught at prisons, businesses, fire and police departments, and a large orphanage.
The following story is about their visit to the orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were housed in the orphanage. This is their story …
Christmas 1994 was near and it was time for our orphans to hear the traditional story of Jesus’ birth for the first time. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem and not finding a room in the inn; the couple had to go to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff listened in amazement. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.
After completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small square piece of paper cut from yellow napkins. No colored paper was available in the city.
Following the instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel (cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady left when she was leaving Russia) were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.
The orphans busied themselves assembling their mangers. I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger.
I asked the lad why were there two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms and looking at his completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings quite accurately. Then he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.
Little Misha started to ad lib. He said, “When Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mama and no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else. Yet I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that I could use as a gift.
“I thought maybe if I kept him warm that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, ‘If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?’
“Jesus told me. ‘If you keep me warm that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.’ So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and told me I could stay with him, always.”
As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him, always.
Little Misha got it right. Jesus is Emmanuel, which means God is with us, always.
Have a Merry Christmas!