Every week I receive numerous newsletters and emails from cross-cultural workers (or missionaries depending on your preference) telling me what they’ve been up to and what they’d like prayer for in the coming months. As you can imagine this time of year brings with it a certain theme – Christmas.
Christmas isn’t an easy time for missionaries. The same can be said for many people back home too. But part of being a missionary means you’ve left your extended family to live and work in a place where you’re an outsider.
You don’t know the language as well as the locals, you are away from the comforts you’ve been bought up with, you’re more than likely unable to worship in the capacity you’re used to for this festive season, and the big Christmas meal probably won’t include a large succulent turkey. Christmas can be a tough little period where you begin wishing you were back home.
In among all the palaver that comes with celebrating a Western Christmas the main tinge of sadness comes from not being able to celebrate with others, particularly family. It is the relational aspect to Christmas that can be hardest, that can being with it this sense of disappointment.
In the two years we were in the Middle East we felt that strongly. We lived within a school that had a few other expat teachers to celebrate Christmas with. It was a great time together and we did of course have a lot of fun. But once the food has been eaten and the afternoon slumber has come over you there is that time of reflection and wishing you could just hang with people you know.
On the other hand there is a great opportunity for missionaries to share the good news of what God has done. Living in a different culture where Christmas isn’t thought of as anything more than a Christian holiday and a few days off work becomes a time where you can tell others about what it really means. That Christmas is actually the remembrance and celebration of God entering the world in human form, bringing hope and joy. And while this may be an assumed reason in the West, when living in a non-Western country the ability to talk about faith and religion is far greater. Striking up a conversation about why Christmas is important and what it means can come far more naturally in a foreign setting than in the Santa-obsessed, present-focused West.
This Christmas is again, like every year, a good reminder to think of those who are away from family.
I am making a conscious effort to pray for and drop a line to those who I know are serving in a missionary capacity. Perhaps you could too?
A few things you could pray for could be:
- Joy among the sadness of being away from family.
- Opportunities to share the real meaning of Christmas with those they live and work with.
- Time for reflection and recuperation from the year that has been.
- A deeper sense of the love of God and the love of those back home.