I was gathered with friends in a living room full of Christmas decorations. There were refreshments on the coffee table, and we were singing Christmas carols together. What could be more typical?

But I live in Southeast Asia, and I was surrounded by local friends and was attempting to sing “O Holy Night” in a foreign (to me) language. As my eyes traveled around the circle, I briefly thought of each one that was there.

Susy converted from Buddhism. This caused an uproar in her traditional family; but over the years, she has patiently won each of them to Christ as well.

Nining and her husband were self-proclaimed agnostics when they got married. But Jesus started working on Nining’s heart and she now attends church every Sunday—but she sits alone, as none of her family are Christians. Nining’s prayer is that someday her husband and sons will be there too, seated by her side.

Hanna’s parents were atheists when they lived in Communist China, but they came to know Jesus after emigrating. After 30 years of marriage, they recently decided to renew their marriage vows in church in the presence of all their children. It was a joyous celebration of faith for the whole family.

As I looked around the circle, I thought of the long journey each of my friends had taken to arrive at this point, where we were sitting together singing Christmas carols. However, there was still more to this simple Christmas celebration that I didn’t know about. After we finished singing “O Holy Night,” one of my friends confided:

“Bomb threats have been made on all the Christian churches in the city. We’re so glad that we could gather here tonight.”

I looked at my friends and marveled at their love and steadfast devotion, despite all odds. I sometimes wonder what the future holds for Christians who are unable to live their faith freely. But tonight my fears were dispelled, as this thought came to me: As long as the Christmas star shines bright in our hearts and we who love Jesus gather to celebrate His birth, the light of Christmas will shine brightly and light the way for His return.