by Christine Junga, missionary in Deva, Romania
I was exhausted after a long day of children yanking on the beard that was strapped above my ears, and from being tripped, pushed, and pulled by the swarm of children around me. My feet slipped around in my boots that were two sizes too big for me as I trudged along the dark sidewalk with Cati. My head itched terribly from the wig and hat that had been glued to my head all day. It was the feast of St. Nicolas, and, as is tradition in Puncte Inima, I was dressed as Moş Nicolae, visiting the children and giving them small presents.
That evening, we came to the home of a little boy named Codrin. As we stepped though the gate, I cleared my throat, preparing to deliver my usual line (“Ai fost cuminte?") in the best old man voice I could muster. I heard the thumping of his footsteps as he ran through the house, towards the door. When he rounded the corner and saw me, he stopped, put his hands to his face and whispered, “Moş Nicolae.” He walked to me and gently took my hand, leading me into the next room. As instructed by Codrin’s mother, I sat down on the bed. Corbin slowly sat down next to me, rested his head on my chest and wrapped his arms around me. He did not say anything, but continued to hug me softly as if I was his oldest friend. Even when I handed him the small present we had prepared for him, he simply took it from my hands and gave me a soft smile, laying it gingerly next to him on the bed, before returning to our hug.
Only a few days before, as we were preparing the children’s gifts from donations we had received from our friends, I had been thinking how cool it was that we were able to give our little friends something concrete. It’s a rare opportunity for us, since our mission here doesn’t involve handing out anything tangible like food or clothes. Instead, we offer our presence as a gift, giving ourselves completely in friendship and love. So I was excited to be able to hand out these small presents to the children and see their faces light up. However, after visiting Codrin, and experiencing how he quite obviously preferred Moş Nicolae’s presence over the gift he was given, I realized that almost all the children we had visited that day had reacted in a similar way. While they appreciated the little gifts, it was clear that what made them truly happy was to be visited by us. Rather than ripping open the little bags we gave them they soaked up the presence of Moş Nicolae like a Sham-Wow on a wine-stained carpet. His presence was more important to them than his presents.