Once upon a time there were two Tanzanian children named
Chacha and Bhoke. They belonged to the Wangoreme Ethnic Group and lived in the
Mara Region of western Tanzania. Chacha was the first born boy in his family. He
was 13 years old and in the fifth grade of the local Iramba Primary School.
Bhoke was the first born girl. She was 11 years old and in the third grade. When
not in school Chacha and Bhoke were busy helping their parents. Sometimes, they
were shepherds herding their family’s cows, sheep and goats. Sometimes they
cultivated cassava and maize on the family farm. Other times they helped around
Chacha and Bhoke followed the African traditional religion
of their parents and grandparents. But they had many Christian friends in
school. From their home on the north side of Nyagasense village they would often
pass the Iramba Catholic Church on their way to the marketplace. While in school
they would often hear singing coming from the big church.
One Sunday morning their mother sent Chacha and Bhoke to
the market to buy cow meat, onions and tomatoes for their midday meal. It was
about 9 a.m. As the two Tanzanian children followed the narrow road that passed
by the church they heard beautiful singing coming from inside. Walking past the
front of the church they took a quick look inside without stopping. African
children and adults filled the church. The Swahili singing was very melodious.
The drums beat joyfully. Chacha and Bhoke were happy to hear the nice music. The
two children arranged to pass by the big Catholic church every Sunday morning to
hear the beautiful singing. One Saturday afternoon they heard Swahili singing
coming from inside the church but only a few voices. Each time they were afraid
to stop in front of the church and look through the open doors. So they just
walked past slowly.
One day in the middle of the week Chacha and Bhoke passed
by the front of the church about 2 p.m. It was very hot. The tropical African
sun beat down mercilessly. Everything was quiet. Not a single person was on the
road. Chacha said to his sister, "No one’s around. Let’s look inside the
church." So timidly they approached the open church. Colorful posters decorated
the doors. Quietly they stepped inside. It was dark and cool. As their eyes
became accustomed to the light they glanced around the big church: the long rows
of benches; the big table and chairs at the front; the beautiful multicolored
African clothes hanging on the front wall.
From that day on Chacha and Bhoke regularly visited the
big Catholic church as long as it was empty and no one was on the road to see
them. How much they liked the cool interior. After walking barefoot on the hot
sand and the rough pebbles outside, the cold cement floor cooled their burning
feet. They became used to the wooden carvings on the wall, the tall candles on
the table in front and the little rooms with curtains along the side walls.
One day in mid December Chacha and Bhoke attended the
final day of classes in their village school. The Christian children talked
about a big celebration to take place on 25 December something about the
birthday of Jesus Christ. Whenever the brother and sister passed the church a
lot of activity was going on inside. The two children longed to look inside but
were afraid. Someone was always around. Early on the morning of 24 December
Chacha and Bhoke finally got their chance. Not a single person was around.
Everyone had gone to the fields. As they stepped inside the church their hearts
beat faster. Their eyes popped with excitement. Every part of the church was
colorfully decorated. Bright red and green and yellow African cloths hung from
the ceiling. Long cords held up rows of pictures and cards. A beautiful African
hut with miniature people and animals occupied the front part of the church. The
two children crept closer, their eyes widening in delight. Then they stood
silently in front of the African hut.
Suddenly a woman’s voice came from the side of the church.
"Children, how do you like the Christmas crib?" Chacha and Bhoke heard the
voice, but saw no one. Frightened, the two Tanzanian children turned quickly and
ran down the aisle towards the open door. The sacristan Paulina stood up between
the benches she was cleaning and called out, "Children, don’t be afraid. It’s
only me Paulina." The two children stopped and turned around breathlessly.
Paulina continued, "You don’t have to run away. Come back. Everyone is welcome
to look at the Christmas crib. Come. Don’t be afraid." So Chacha and Bhoke
cautiously returned to the crib.
Paulina could see them clearly now. "Oh, you are the
children of Mwita. I’ve never seen you in church before." Chacha looked down
nervously and Bhoke tightly clutched her brother’s hand. Paulina said, "You
don’t have to be afraid. Everyone is welcome here including members of African
traditional religions like your parents and yourselves. We Christians are
getting ready for one of our biggest feasts of the year. We call it Christmas.
"Every December we build this little African hut in the front part of the church
to tell the story of Christmas. Children, would you like me to tell you the
story of the birth of Christ?" Chacha and Bhoke eagerly nodded yes. Paulina went
on, "We really don’t know what happened that first Christmas almost 2000 years
ago, but we believe that a miracle occurred. Jesus Christ, the son of God was
born to Mary and Joseph in a poor stable in the town of Bethlehem far, far away.
Shepherds came from the countryside with their flocks to see the new born baby
who was destined to become the savior of the world and the redeemer of
humankind. An angel appeared with a big choir singing, ‘Glory to God in the
highest heaven and peace to all people who enjoy God’s favors"
Chacha and Bhoke’s eyes gleamed with excitement they
followed Paulina’s story. The small carved figures in the crib fascinated them.
They seemed so real. Bhoke was touched by the gentle way that Mary held her
infant baby. Chacha liked the tall shepherds looking so intently at the baby
Jesus in the manger. He was proud that he too was a shepherd and took care of
his father’s cows and sheep. Their grandmother had often told them stories by
the fire at night, but this story of Jesus was very special. Could he really be
the Son of God?
At the end of the story Paulina said, "That’s the
Christmas story that we Christians believe. Maybe you both will believe it
someday. Many schoolchildren like you study the Christian religion in school and
here in the church. You are welcome to join our instructions.
"But you don’t have to be a Christian to visit the church
and see the Christmas crib. Come back tomorrow because 25 December is the actual
anniversary of Christ’s birth. The singing and drumming during our special mass
will be joyful. The Wangoreme women and girls will dance and made their special
thrilling sounds. We will clap and rejoice as we celebrate the birth of Jesus
Christ our savior."
And come back Chacha and Bhoke did!