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Christmas offering’s machine: doctor’s entree to lost souls

CHANDLER, Ariz. (BP)–For many Southern Baptists, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions has become a vague — if hallowed — tradition, a different-colored envelope in the pew rack, about the time the weather turns cold.
But for Doug Derbyshire — a Southern Baptist International Mission Board medical missionary to Thailand – – the offering is something much more tangible.
It’s the ultrasound machine standing in a corner of the spartan hospital where he works — and it’s all the lives that machine has let him impact for eternity.
“Lottie Moon directly affects what we do,” says Derbyshire, currently on furlough in Chandler, Ariz. “Lottie Moon offerings bought our hospital an ultrasound machine, and it has helped me immensely.
“Within seconds,” Derbyshire says, of using the machine for the first time, “people were coming from hundreds of miles.”
And getting people in the door, he says, means everything for a medical missionary — not just for the chance to treat their ailments and pains, but for a chance to present the gospel in a clear, unmistakable way.
That’s why when Derbyshire hears “Lottie Moon,” he so often thinks of Sarin.
When Sarin came to the Baptist hospital with intense belly pain, the new ultrasound machine revealed gallstones. The doctors removed his gallbladder, and — once he had recovered — shared Jesus with him.
“He said, ‘I have been here five days,'” Derbyshire remembers. “‘What ceremony can I do so I can become a Christian?’ “‘There is no ceremony,’ I told him. ‘You just ask Christ into your heart.’
“‘I’ll do that right now,’ he said.
“Now, Sarin had never prayed before. So he just prayed, looking me square in the eye: ‘God, from this day on, you will be my boss, and I will be your slave.'”
Looking around, Derbyshire noted most of the other patients were listening intently as he and Sarin talked about the Thai man’s newfound faith.
“He wanted to know, ‘What can I do, what can’t I do?’ He said, ‘There is no church in my village. There are no Christians in my village.'”
That absence of other believers is an enduring fact of life for Christians in Thailand, says Doug’s wife, Cheryl — and the absence is especially keenly felt at Christmastime.
“It’s not as festive,” she says. “Christmas is a regular day. Everybody goes to work. Only the Christians celebrate.”
That tends to keep the celebrations sparse. The Derbyshires’ church has something approaching 120 members — and it’s the only congregation in a province of 60,000.
But if the celebrants are few, the Christmas spirit is deeply, refreshingly genuine.
“For the Thai (believers),” Cheryl says, “Christmas is a true celebration of Christ’s birth — everything’s focused on that.”
“Among the Christians, there is no distraction from materialism,” Doug says. “It is not a store holiday. It is a faith holiday. People have a great joy with this date … and the birth of our Lord binds Christians together.”
Over the last few years, the Derbyshires have invited the neighborhood to their front yard for Christmas, working with members from their local church to present a living nativity scene. Friends, neighbors and acquaintances sit on mats spread on the grass, nibble cookies and leaf through tracts explaining who Jesus is.
“It’s (usually) the first time any of them have heard the Christmas story,” Cheryl says. “Often, in a culture like that, it takes seven to eight years for the gospel to penetrate.”
Keeping Christmas traditions alive so far from family, friends and winter weather presents its own challenges, the Derbyshires say. But they make the most of it — taking a day to exchange cards and gifts, play games and just spend time together as a family.
Their four children enjoy dressing up as sheep for the living nativity scene.
They still remember the day — their first Christmas day in Thailand — when the mail arrived with six boxes of gifts for the kids, all from their Sunday school class at North Phoenix Baptist Church.
“It was a special time,” Doug says, “knowing they hadn’t forgotten us … that folks back here were partnered with us,” a partnership embodied in an odd-colored, Lottie Moon Christmas Offering envelope and the year-round hope of salvation for lost souls in Thailand.

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  • Chris Potts