I love Christmas! I love dreaming about a white Christmas and watching Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. My mind wanders back to the years when every Christmas was white. I was living on the Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia….
The snow fell softly across our windshield as my husband and I drove eight hours through the wilderness to visit our friend Alexei, a national missionary. I sighed as we finally pulled into the driveway at Alexei’s one-room cabin. The waist-deep snow reflected the glow of welcoming lights shining through the windows. It was a winter wonderland.
We drank gallons of hot black tea while we caught up on all the news with Alexei. We discussed future ministry plans and prayed together until the wee hours of the morning. Exhausted, we made a bed on the floor near the wood stove and slept.
The next morning, I awoke to the sound of wood being pitched into the stove. Through heavy eyelids, I watched Alexei set a tall pot of water on the red-hot stove. My stomach growled, anticipating a big warm bowl of oatmeal.
Our host shuffled out the door and returned carrying a couple of long objects. I looked, rubbed my eyes to clear my blurry vision, and then looked again. I stared as Alexei placed two reindeer legs into the pot. I pinched myself to be sure I was awake. Yes, they were reindeer legs. Skinned, meat still on the bone, but with a little fringe of fur circling the hooves.
My mind began inventing excuses for skipping breakfast. I realized Alexei was offering the best he had, and I would have to eat it. I began praying the overseas worker’s prayer: Lord, I’ll swallow it, but please help me keep it down. I slipped out of my cozy sleeping bag and headed to the icy outhouse to answer nature’s call.
Upon my return, I tried to keep my eyes from focusing on the reindeer legs in the pot of boiling water. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the hooves slowly rotating in gentle circles as they stuck out of the pot. My mind conjured up a vision of sitting at the breakfast table with a giant platter of reindeer legs in front of me. How does one politely eat reindeer legs? Using the hooves as a handle while gnawing on them like giant drumsticks?
Finally, Alexei pronounced the legs cooked and pulled them out of the pot. Quickly he turned and scooted out the door with the steaming legs. Where was he going?
I followed him outside and watched as he tossed the steaming legs to the salivating guard dog tied beside the cabin. I nearly sank to my knees in relief as I realized leg of reindeer was not on our breakfast menu.
Later, we questioned Alexei about the reindeer legs. He led us out back to a broken icebox lying in a mound of snow. He opened the door to reveal a stack of frozen reindeer legs. It looked like a Christmas-Day massacre of Santa’s reindeer! Alexei explained that reindeer herders from a nearby village had passed through selling reindeer meat. The legs were cheap and a good supplement to the guard dog’s usual diet of gruel and scraps.
Two years later, we were living in Alexei’s old cabin. Our ministry among reindeer herders provided many colorful stories as we shared about our ministry on stateside assignments.
I will never forget the first (and last) time I spoke to a children’s Sunday school class about eating reindeer meat. Silence fell across the group, then a small boy raised his hand and inquired in a wavering voice, “Did you eat Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer?”
The children leaned forward, breathlessly awaiting my answer. A collective sigh echoed through the room as I assured them Rudolph had never been on our dinner menu. I learned to avoid the topic of reindeer meat when speaking to a group of children. Too many uncomfortable questions, plus I always imagined them pocketing their mission offering because I had murdered and eaten Rudolph.
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer is still one of my favorite Christmas movies. I can’t help wondering how important his legs are for take-off and landing….
© 2012 Women of the Harvest.
Question to Consider: What experiences on the field have given you “colorful stories” to share?