Mrs V: 
It's Christmas Day. Our living room is decked with stockings and a brightly colored tree; we have a manger scene on the mantle and Christmas cards all over the walls. My little two are playing checkers by the fire and the firstborn is curled up with a book. It’s a moment to treasure, but what strikes me, this time, with a wave of nostalgia, is the book my daughter is consuming. I know the deep red binding; I know the golden angel that graces the cover. Grief invades my Christmas scene, encapsulates my perfect picture. Of course it'd be this year. Of course she'd pick this book to cling to THIS Christmas when the giver has so recently entered his eternal home.

Despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that it’s Christmas Day I let the memories flood my senses ... 

An Angel's Story, the first Christmas from heaven's view, by Max Lucado. A gift to me from Kayleigh's "uncle" Kevin. Kev gave me the book when we were Team8. When Adam, Kevin, Kristi and Jess met every other weekday to discuss our "kids" (not biological but the kids we prayed for, taught and mentored at Kalamazoo Christian Middle School). I don't recall who exactly introduced this book, but I do remember Kevin's passion. Kevin LOVED Christmas. Not Santa, not parades, not gifts (though he did LOVE giving); Kevin.loved.Christmas. 

I have fond memories of my 8th graders eagerly getting up from their desks, laying on the floor, folding their sweatshirts into pillows, and circling up around their teacher for "story time." I  let them pretend it was dorky and childish, but their rapt attention and vaguely concealed eagerness betrayed them. Each Bible class leading up to Christmas we'd cherish this book, feel this story, imagine what the gift of Jesus looked like from Heaven's perspective. It was rich. It was meaningful; it gave me a fresh perspective of that Holy Night. 

The crowning conclusion to Max Lucado's interpretation of Christmas was a full scaled sense-activating experience. This experience was Kevin's pet project - his bounce-as-he-walked, rub his hands together with glee, light up his whole face with excitement - type of project. He called it, “Christmas Stinks…” 


Mrs. Setsma: 
Spring: 1997: With dusty feet and a sweat drenched t-shirt, I stood in a dirty, poop-filled, smelly, rocky, uneven, gross cave just outside of ancient Bethlehem. My teacher, Ray VanderLaan, was doing a Christmas lesson. He was shouting. “THIS IS WHERE JESUS, THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD, WAS BORN! Not exactly what I had always pictured as a child, but here we were. This was my first introduction to “Christmas Stinks.” Like me, Kevin had also visited the Holy Land with RVL, and like me, he took to heart the message that was given to us.


Mr. S:
I remember when Kevin told me about his idea for Christmas Stinks. I told him it was great because there's way too much about Christ's birth that's been glamorized when the King of Kings was actually born on a floor filled with shit.

Kevin was quite excited about the 5 gallon pail o' horse manure that Connor brought in on the bus that morning. We went down to the gym to test things out. I pulled out one section of bleachers for the 8th graders, and then sat towards the top. Kevin uncapped his mother load of olfactory assault and began practicing his message. After a bit I said I couldn't smell anything.

Epic fail.

I quickly ran back to my room and got my industrial floor fan and an extension cord. We hooked it up, and I went back up top. Kev cranked it on and  I was immediately overcome by a wall of pure methane - enough to gag a maggot. After recovering, and laughing, we agreed that this would do the trick. We could effectively drive home the point of exactly what Christ gave up for us.

Glory to GOD!


Mrs. Setsma: 
Our team’s point, delivered so effectively by Kev,  was this: Jesus did not come into this world like we think he did. The King arrived as humble as he could -- as a babe, in a smelly, dirty, stinky cave with nothing. Christmas, and the entire Christmas season, is not about gifts and santa and perfect family time and food and buying. It’s not about the things that our culture throws at us. Christmas is about  a humble child, born in a manger, in a place that is the antithesis of what was expected..

So I am challenged, and encouraged, to talk to my children about the broken this Christmas. They have seen me cry many tears in this past season. I want them to know that we celebrate Christ's birth by crying with those that hurt, praying with the sick, giving to the poor, being kind to those that are different. Through that I will be able to share the real joy that is Christmas: Jesus came to fix all this! He came to heal the sick; He came to conquer death. He came to SAVE us from all of the sin and disease and brokenness and sadness and hurting and shame. We have hope in our JESUS who was born on Christmas day.

"O Come O Come Emmanuel."

******************************************************************************************As we compiled this memory, this reflection upon what matters at Christmas, we reached out to several students, asking for their contributions. Their memories connected to this event. Every student we asked contributed. Their contributions are included, in FULL, below. These are lives touched, memories felt, grief observed and lessons learned. 

We invite additional contributions in the comments section below, via Facebook, or through email to Mrs. Van Dyk at


Christmas is my favorite time of the year. Everyone seems to be happier, even when the weather gets colder. Homes are decorated with lights and trees, and families get together to celebrate Christmas; the birth of Christ. As children, we hear about Jesus being born in a manger in Bethlehem, but in a child’s mind it sounds more like a fairy tale than what it actually was. In 8th grade, Mr. Witte couldn’t wait to tell us the truth.

“Christmas stinks”, he told us. He meant it literally, and I have to say that I never thought I would have a teacher get so excited about a pile of poop. This sounds strange, but Mr. Witte wanted us, his students, to experience what that manager might have actually smelled like. Jesus wasn’t born in a warm hospital, he was born outside in a stable where animals lived and yes, pooped. I experienced the telling of this story a little differently than the rest of my classmates. 

In 8th grade, I was in Mrs. Van Dyk’s video yearbook class, and one of my assignments was to film the 8th grade Christmas party. In other words, I was the one behind the camera filming my fellow classmates sitting in front of a pile of poop while an industrial fan blew the stench directly at them. I found that video yearbook recently (I knew my hoarding would come in handy someday) and I laughed at the girls freaking out in the front row and the boys burying their noses in their shirts to cover the smell. My laughter turned solemn when a younger version of a familiar face appeared on the screen.

“Mr. Witte do you have anything to say about Christmas besides that it stinks?” my friend Jenny asks from behind the camera.

“Just that it stinks,” Kevin says, his mouth hung open and typing at his computer. 

“Not Merry Christmas or Happy new year?” Jenny is persistent. Realizing that she isn’t going to go away unless he pays attention, Kevin stops typing, turns toward the camera, and leans back in his chair. 

“Merry Christmas and happy new year,” he says and flashes a purposefully awkward grin. 

The screen cut to black.



One December morning my best friend and fellow end-of-the-line bus rider, Connor VanDongen, climbed on the morning bus with his sister and a secret, tightly sealed 5-gallon bucket. Little did I know, that bucket was filled with poop. Horse manure from Connor’s grandparents horse barn, to be more precise. And even if I had known the contents of the mysterious bucket, I would have never guessed that Mr. Witte, the 8th grade social studies teacher, was going to open it up and fan its odors onto the unsuspecting middle school assembly.

The smell was surprising, but it was no surprise that Mr. Witte was involved. My most distinct memory of Kevin Witte was a lesson he taught in my 8th grade year—a lesson that also revolved around poop. As the end of the year and the end of my middle school career approached, Kevin taught me and the 20 other thirteen-year-olds in my class about discernment. He posed a question: “If I had a plate of brownies for you to eat, how much dog poop could be in them before you’d refuse?” It might sound like a ridiculous question but he went on to explain that we could choose the tiniest amount—hardly even dog poop at all. And that it would all be baked, so a small amount definitely wouldn’t hurt us. And he promised the brownies would be delicious. Because the room was half filled with 13-year-old boys, the answer came back as “some, maybe, but it would definitely have to be less than half dog poop.” Kevin then went on to tell us that almost everything we take in: food, drink, music, movies, TV shows, games, books, conversation, have at least a little poop in them. That is to say, he explained, that nearly everything we consume has a twinge of falsehood, deceit, or sin. There are, to be sure, plenty of ways to grab the attention of a room full of 13-year-olds, but few more efficient than telling them they regularly consume poop.

The lesson on discernment was a good one, not only because it got our attention, but because it was useful. The conversation, which Kevin started with me in 8th grade, about how much crap I’m willing to consume is one that I returned to over and over again throughout high school and college, and is one that I still think about.

In a way, that lesson of discernment was enveloped in Stinky Christmas. When the middle school student body walked into the gym and into the wall of stink wafting from the VanDongens’ mystery bucket, we had no choice but to confront the typical Christmas story with some skepticism. Rather than carols, cookies, angels, and a gently sleeping baby, Kevin portrayed a scene of hay, manure, and sleeplessness. There are many lessons that could be drawn from Stinky Christmas, but one of the most important for me was a lesson in discernment. If you don’t smell the manure, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Kevin went out of his way time and time again to meet his students in a place where we’d understand him. He taught us not only to be grateful for the comforts we have, he taught us about the sacrifice God made in coming to this manure filled place, and he taught us to think critically about the stories we’re told and the stories we tell ourselves. Because sometimes when we clean up a story, we leave out important (and smelly) parts.