If you are planning to be edified by this story because of the title think again. This is one of the most unedifying of our adventures that I know of, but it is also the most famous. Thanks to some of our so-called-friends who find enjoyment in these types of things, this story is known all over West Africa and is usually referred to as “The Christmas Eve story”. (I must add, though, that I imagine it will loose something without the proper facial expressions and sound effects that helped it reach its celebrated status.)
It begins, of course, on Christmas Eve, the Christmas Eve of 1987. Joel was just over a year old and Jonathan was in the pot. I had recently finished learning the Konkomba language, and we had begun holding services in our own town of Gbintiri. Christmas Eve was going to be our first evening service. Our house was about a quarter mile from the main road, and the church was still an outdoor shelter just on the other side of that road.
When the sun set Beth was still having “morning” sickness, and Joel had gone to bed early, so, even though I did not seem to be feeling all that well myself, I set out on foot for the service alone since I was supposed to preach.
It was a black moonless night such as one can only experience in the bush, far from artificial light. The lantern cast one ring of feeble brightness, and everything beyond that was lost in the impenetrable dark. When the time came I began to deliver my sermon. Things were going along smoothly to a point. Then, about half way through,… IT HIT!
Now I had had diarrhea before, more than my share actually, but I had never experienced anything like this. It was as if two hands had grabbed my lower intestines and began to twist and squeeze. As I continued to preach, pressure was building at an alarming rate. The needles of my internal pressure gauges quivered into the red zones and the rivets holding me together began to pop. I strained to keep my eyes from blowing out into the congregation, and my nostrils flared, threatening to turn inside out entirely.
Now if my brain had continued to function normally I would have simply stopped the sermon, excused myself for a moment, and taken care of this incredibly insistent problem. But by this time the pressure on my brain was so intense that rational thought was entirely impossible, and all I could think of was to just try to reach the end of the sermon and get out of there. In one brief moment of clarity I thought about trying to relieve a little of the built up pressure by slightly easing up on the sphincter valve and releasing a little gas…but no. It was impossible. The pressure was such that, given the slightest break in the containment field, there could be no other result than an explosion of epic proportions.
Now, they say when a person is drowning, that there is a moment of resignation, when that person realizes that death is inevitable, and he just gives in to the moment. I have experienced that moment. I reached the point when I just knew that this was going to happen and there was nothing I could do about it. All I could do was resign myself….and let it happen…. And it did.
I felt the warm dampness spreading in the lower regions
I was continuing on with the sermon as if nothing had happened.
I looked at my flock and wondered,” Do they know what is going on here? Can they smell me?….because I can smell me.”
I brought the sermon to a rapid close, told Jacob, one of the leaders, to lead a song, and bolted from the circle of lantern light into the comforting, concealing darkness beyond. There I ripped off my pants and squatted in the tall but sparse dry season grass, and cut loose. It was an event of Biblical proportions, as it says in Genesis chapter 7: ”On that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.”
It was an incredible relief. One could almost get high on the rush and exhilaration that comes with that sense of release. That is if it were not for the accompanying sounds that ripped through the night air.
PIBRRRRRRRRRTH…. PLEH…PLEH …PLEH….HRRUUUPPPPPPTH
(It’s kind of hard to reproduce here in print, but you know what I mean.)
Suddenly my ecstasy was cut short by the growing realization that something was terribly wrong. It was another sound…or rather the lack of it.
Back within the sphere of light from the weakly glowing lantern, Jacob had failed in his assigned task. He and the entire congregation were gazing silently out into the darkness trying to discern from whence came these horrible demonic reverberations.
I think that my neck probably reached the length of about two feet with the effort as I strove to remind him, with the greatest possible emphasis, of his previous commission. I shouted at the top of my lungs, but I think that actually very little sound rasped past my overly-strained vocal chords as I screamed, “S I N G ! I said S S S S I N GGGGG !!!!!!!!”
Jacob’s arms were already in motion and directing as he and the congregation snapped back to face one another, their voices swiftly breaking forth in a peon of praise.
Now safe in the darkness from prying eyes, and with the sound muffled by the overly-exuberant singing, I finished my business. Of course, at the time I didn’t think about the smell again, but one can not always think of everything. But in thinking of it afterwards, I am amazed by how so many of the senses are brought fully into this one short story, sight, sound, smell, touch…Oh, but I am getting ahead of myself now. That comes next. (Oh, just be glad that taste never comes into this.)
I was now tired and exhausted by my previous efforts, but I faced one more moment of truth…. I had to put those pants back on….I rose slowly bringing the pants up and into place. As I hauled them into position I felt that nauseating combination of cool wetness and, the even worse, warm wetness sliding with a slimy consistency against my skin.
Thus girded, I waddled back into the brightness, being reminded again of Ephesians chapter five, “It is shameful even to mention what they do in the darkness. But everything exposed by the light will become visible.” (slightly paraphrased).
I said in a voice weak from battle and strain, ‘I’m sick. I need to go home. If you want to sing a few more songs you can do that, but I need to go.”
I don’t remember if they sang anymore or not. I shuffled the quarter mile home through the darkness. I walked in among my now sleeping family, went straight to the shower, and without removing any of my contaminated apparel, I twisted the spigget and began my eagerly awaited Christmas Eve shower. And as the purging liquid spread over my shirt and down my back, somewhere I thought I heard a voice echoing through the African night, “Merry Christmas to all! And to all a good night!”