In early December, my husband and I packed for a small-ship adventure in the South Pacific. I phoned our friends and neighbors, Judy and Andy, who would travel with us.
“Will there be a pastor for Christmas on such a small ship?” I asked them. “What if God wants us to conduct the Christmas service?”
“I’ll bring songbooks, just in case,” Judy replied.
“I could do my Christmas reading. . . .”
We were willing.
On December 17, we flew to Guam, a United States protectorate. Our bus’s guide said, “Don’t expect too much. Guam is mainly an airport and military base.”
The guide told us that our ship, Spirit of Oceanus, had only 53 passengers this time—and no minister for a Christmas Day service.
Our ship anchored some distance from the islands to protect the surrounding coral. The natives didn’t use money, so when we went ashore we took gifts: 20-pound bags of rice and other foodstuffs, as well as school and medical supplies—and two doctors.
The islanders offered us papaya, bananas, pineapple, watermelon, and breadfruit—and sang and danced their tribal dances for us.
Their children peeked at us through the jungle greenery. Their ages, we guessed, ranged from about 4 to 12.
After lunch on the ship, Judy and I returned to the Ifaluk village.
The village children watched Judy and me so closely, we thought it must be the first time they’d ever seen white people.
Judy smiled her wonderful smile at them and began to clap her hands. Clap-clap-clap-clap . . . clap-clap-clap-clap . . . “Can you clap with me?” she asked the children.
They began to clap with her. More children arrived, perhaps a total of 50, and joined in the clapping.
“My name is Judy,” she said, still clapping. “Thank you for letting us visit your beautiful island.”
Clap-clap-clap-clap . . .
“It’s almost Christmas,” she said. “Do you know any Christmas carols?”
The children continued to clap, but made no reply.
“Let’s sing ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas,’” Judy said.
They did—in English. Judy and I sang with them.
We clapped in unison again, and Judy said, “My favorite Christmas carol is ‘Joy to the World.’ Can you sing it?”
They also knew “Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger,” and others, always clap-clap-clapping between carols.
A mother had been watching us from near her thatched hut; she called out, “You forgot ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.’”
So we sang it too, knowing that music brings unity to divergent people, and encourages people to bond quickly.
When the songfest ended, the children chanted, “We love Judy,” so we chanted with them. “We love Judy. . . .” (So do most people.)
What an opportunity to show the children that people of all colors and languages find unity in music. We gave the children an unexpected Christmas program, and they blessed us with one of the most memorable Christmas Eves of our lives.
On Christmas Day, Judy and her husband, Andy, and my husband, Frank, and I gave a Christmas service for 34 other passengers, including five children. At the end, one of the women passengers said, “What a treasure!”
Judy gave her a small pocket Bible.
The treasure was ours—telling about Jesus.
To our amazement, after hearing us, a disenchanted minister returned to the Lord. We didn’t even know he was a pastor until his sister told us this at the end of the cruise.
We were reminded that there are opportunities to tell and sing about Jesus almost everywhere. Even on island cruises.
Elaine Schulte is the author of 36 novels and hundreds of articles. She lives in Arizona.