It’s exciting to learn a country’s different cultures and customs during holidays. John and I are eagerly anticipating the Christmas season to take part in these customs. We are thankful that our kids can be a part of something different. Even so, in all the excitement and learning is a yearning for holiday traditions of the United States. There is also a bit of a void that can only be filled with the laughter and sounds of a Christmas with moms and dads and siblings. Here are a few reasons why holidays can be odd or difficult for a missionary:
Food: It’s very difficult to find “holiday food”, and if you can, it’s expensive. Like $4 for a can of pumpkin or $40 – $60 for a turkey.
It’s not cold: For many of us the holidays mean brisk or very cold weather. There is a certain Christmasy smell in the air. I love it. Many missionaries live in warm cultures and quite honestly, it’s just not quite the same. It literally does not “feel” like Christmas.
We are missing in the “remember when’s”: You know those times when family gets together and something hilarious or poignant happens? Those are wonderful memories that become a topic of conversation in the next family gathering. I like to call them “remember when’s”. After missing so many holidays, we become absent from those, and the next time we visit we are not a part of them. Oh I want my family to have them and to be happy, but it stings a little. How I wish I could be a part of ALL the “remember when’s”.
College age missionary kids can’t come visit: Whether it be because of the lack of money or the distance, many college aged MK’s can’t visit their parents overseas. This leaves them alone and their parents an unfilled seat around the Thanksgiving table. From what I’ve heard and can imagine, it’s so very difficult for both. Imagine not being able to spend the most family oriented times a year without your child. I’d urge you to “adopt” a missionary kid this season if you can find one in this situation.
Past traditions are in the… past: Some family traditions can continue on in another country, but there are some beloved ones that a missionary must say goodbye to. Such as going to the local Christmas tree farm and cutting down your own tree, going to Grandmas on Christmas Eve, Black Friday shopping with sisters, mom’s famous pies. Fun new traditions are born but part traditions still remain in the heart.
Ministry, ministry, ministry: I’m going to go out on a limb and say that all missionaries do ministry throughout the Holiday season. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, we enjoy it, it’s what we do. However, when every gathering, party, and church service is ministry, sometimes it’s nice to have a break. Balance is one of the most difficult challenges for a missionary. Where do we draw the line, CAN you say no?, when do I flip off the ministry switch and just enjoy an event?, and so many other things.
Loneliness: When the Thanksgiving feast is over, when the presents are unwrapped and the Christmas story read, and night comes…we realize, “I’m lonely, I want my extended family.” Not that our fellow missionaries aren’t enough, it’s just…..no one can take families place. When we remember the games we could be playing, the football playing in the background, being crazy and going with our siblings to a late-night movie Christmas Day; all with our extended family, well, it can feel a little lonely.
Thank God that the ultimate reason for the Holidays is HIM. The reason why we give thanks is because of His provision, we celebrate Christmas because of Jesus Christ’s birth, and we thank Him for another year of life on New Year’s Eve and Day. All missionaries choose this life because God called us to it and we could not deny His beckoning. We choose it for the joy of making disciples and watching them grow to be leaders. Honestly, there is no other place I’d rather be than right in the center of God’s will. There are so many great things about celebrating overseas ESPECIALLY celebrating with our fellow missionaries. But, we are human and we miss “home”. And so we cling to the promise of Matthew 19:29,
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”