As Chase Oakers, we often hear the phrase “make a difference,” which makes us think of traveling across the world for mission trips. But one easy way for Chase Oakers to make a difference is to connect with our community this holiday season. This is exactly what one Chase Oaks family does every year. Here is their story.
We, Charles and Janice Robb, have hosted a Christmas brunch at our home annually for the last eight years for those who have no understanding of the meaning of the holiday or have no family in our community with which to celebrate. When the Christmas brunch tradition was initiated, God was not an intentional part of our lives, but unknown to us, He was active regardless. In fact, He planted a seed that eventually led to this much-anticipated event years before it even began.
Charles was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Dallas, and early on in his program, one of his professors assigned a presentation requiring the students to work in small groups. The class had a large number of Chinese-speaking students with limited English skills who were concerned about how they would successfully deliver a presentation to the class. At break time on the evening the project was assigned, one such student gathered the courage to approach Charles and ask if he would be willing to be in a group with her. He said “yes,” and upon his agreement, the Taiwanese girl signaled to three others to come and meet the answer to their problem.
Charles was startled to have an instantaneous group, having thought the two of them would have to recruit others, but this crew of friends had worked as a team to recruit him. Charles and I had no idea how profoundly it would impact our lives. We thought, as they did, the true benefit of the group was securing an English mouthpiece for the Taiwanese natives, but as it turned out, the benefits went well beyond the class assignment.
The group met regularly to research and prepare their presentation, and a comfort level developed between them, allowing for jokes and questions regarding each other’s culture. The relationship evolved into regular potlucks at our house where the rule was English-only since they were Taiwanese students attending school in the United States to become more fluent in English. Although it was terrifying for the students at first, our home became a safe place to practice English. The potlucks remained between the six of us for several months, and a genuine respect and affection arose between us.
One among the group happened to be the president of the UTD Taiwanese Association, and one day, he approached us to ask permission to invite interested students arriving in the United States to attend UTD to join us at the potlucks. We readily agreed; however, there were few takers. After all, associating with English-only speakers while in this country was scary and absolutely unnecessary since there is such a large population of Asians in the area.
Sadly, the original members of the group began to graduate and return home to Taiwan. It was always hard for us to say goodbye. Despite our short time together, we had developed a meaningful relationship with one another. Fortunately, with every graduation and departure, the outgoing students provided another regular guest at the potlucks in their stead. That is until the day the president himself, one of our dearest friends, graduated. That ended our connection to the Taiwanese Association, and thus, when the last student in our potluck group graduated and returned home or moved to a different state for a better opportunity, it was the end of the gatherings. But God had planted His seed, and it was sprouting.
Several years later, our first child arrived, and at 18 months, she was immersed in the Asian culture at a Chinese preschool for the purpose of learning the Chinese language. She was the only blonde, blue-eyed child, the only child without at least one Asian-born parent. Other parents were curious about our presence, and one was bold enough to ask, “Why do you bring your daughter here?” followed immediately by, “Do you speak Chinese?”
From that day forward, she and two other families with toddler girls included us in their playgroup. We got together nearly every weekend. At school, the mothers of the playgroup translated for us when we needed to communicate with the teachers who spoke little to no English. They also introduced us to important Chinese cultural norms in daily life, routine, and diet and shared the meaning of their biggest holiday, Chinese New Year, inviting us to local celebrations in Chinese communities around the Metroplex.
In return, we introduced a few of our holidays. We started with Halloween. Since they had no experience with our traditions, we launched an annual pumpkin painting party. Seven families attended that first year, all of which were a part of our circle at the preschool. Each family brought a pumpkin, and their child decorated it with various art supplies we provided. We had an array of paints, felt scraps, stickers, eyeballs, gems, and sequins. The kids delighted in choosing the materials with which to create a masterpiece. It was a buzz of activity that was entertaining for the kids and parents alike.
One of the mothers even took over her daughter’s pumpkin because she could not contain her inner child. “What?! I have never done this before! This is fun,” she declared as we laughed at her obvious enjoyment in the endeavor. The party was a smashing success!
The time spent together gave us all further insight as to how different the Asian and American cultures are. We truly did not understand each other, but the curiosity and willingness to explore one another’s way of life was there. It only required cultivation. Thus, the Christmas brunch was born.
Christmas Day is a day reserved for families and those we hold most dear as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Despite the increasing population from Asian and other predominantly non-Christian countries in the United States, Christmas Day has remained a day in which the entire country shuts down. Our community of friends had no tie to the holiday, no understanding of its meaning, nor any particular way to spend the day. They simply drifted through the day wondering what all the fuss was about.
At that first Christmas brunch, all seven families joined us. We ate, conversed, and laughed around the table. After a hardy breakfast with unifying fellowship, we retired to the living room where stockings lay under the tree for every child in attendance. Santa had remembered each one. The kids, eight toddlers back then, were lined up on the couch. Parents stood about the room with cameras aimed to capture the action. The anticipation was palpable.
When their name was called, each child came forward to receive a stocking with a grin from ear to ear. They sat on the couch with stockings in hand until the word was given to look inside. The gifts were inexpensive: a book from Scholastic, a wood art project from Michaels, and foam shapes to make an ornament. But they meant the world to those toddlers. They represented love, the gift extended to each of us by Jesus, our Savior, if we choose to receive it.
Although they have evolved over the years, our parties have become core traditions at the Robb household. Only two of the original families still attend. The other families have moved, or they regularly travel during the holiday season, usually back to their homeland when work is slow and extended vacation time is available.
Though several have moved on, others have returned. Three of our UTD Taiwanese potluck friends, a married couple, and the Taiwanese Association president, have moved back to Dallas with their families. In addition, a former tennis client, who also attended the potlucks with the Taiwanese students, is married and has children, and he is thrilled to have his family included in the annual celebrations.
Recently, we were honored to have a family from India, with no family ties here in Texas, join our group. They bring an arranged marriage, the Hindu religion, and curry-flavored food to the table.
The Christmas Brunch Bunch, our nickname for the group, has grown almost threefold since its beginning. No longer are there enough chairs nor space at the table for everyone to sit. The compact kitchen accommodates only a few at a time, which results in the human form of bumper cars and a great deal of excuse me’s while retrieving food. There is no separation of space between adults and children playing with toys, so one must look carefully before taking a step in any direction. But nobody minds the cramped spaces or the staggered eating times. We come together for the fellowship, the connection, the acceptance, and most importantly, the love.
The Christmas Brunch Bunch has become our extended family, and the holidays would be hollow without them. And now that God has become an intentional part of our lives in the last several years, our home is being transformed by God’s love, and that love is being shared with those that do not know Him.
As one Chinese-born attendee frankly stated, “You are the only real Christians we know.” It is a place where all can come as you are, discuss religious and cultural differences freely, and feel safe and loved despite your beliefs. The light shines at the Robb household.
Just like the Robb family, you can connect with people and make a difference in your community during the holidays. Throughout the holiday season, check out our blog and Facebook for ways you can make a difference in our community.