• December 23, 2014

Presence vs Presents

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.

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