Most missionaries from western countries who serve far from home would be willing to tell you that Christmas is not an easy time of year. Our first Christmas on the field was spent in a remote village. Unlike most new missionary families, we actually did get to spend Christmas with at least part of our family. DJ’s parents were serving in that remote village. We also got to experience our first near-sinking while navigating one of the sets of rapids on our way up to the village. In a speedboat. With our 18-month-old twins. That was when DJ learned that riding the rapids when you are the kid and your dad or a local friend is driving is fun. Riding them when you are the driver and something goes wrong while your children are in the boat is terrifying.
Our second Christmas on the field was in the capital city. We were overseeing (and living in) our mission’s guest home there. God gave us a two-week break in the normal busy guest schedule and we put up a fake Christmas tree. Until this year, that was the only “family Christmas” (by western definitions) that we have really celebrated on the field.
The following Christmases blur together. We moved back to the village of the near-sinking. Started using bigger boats to avoid more near-sinkings. Became part of the life of the village as much as possible. Which included 2 days and 3 nights of church meetings every year at Christmas. The kids usually opened presents on Christmas morning. They just had to hurry so we could get to the first meeting by 8:00. We usually tried to bake a chicken and have a team Christmas dinner sometime before or after the days of meetings.
Our believing friends in the village certainly would not have understood our need for a family dinner or the opening of presents (or certainly any concept of sleeping in.) To them the 2 days and 3 nights of meetings are very festive. As is the 10-12 hours spent by all the ladies in the village making cookies, banana bread, and other snacks to feed the potential several hundred attendees of said meetings. And the huge pots of rice and cauldrons of meat and vegetables cooking over open fires in somebody’s yard.
One thing we did have in common, despite our very, very different holiday trappings. We both knew that Christmas was about Jesus. This year in our new ministry location, when we finally got to set up our fake tree again, and open presents, and go to only ONE church service on Christmas day (which was at 10:00, by the way), I thought about those blurry, busy, often lonely Christmases in the village. Can’t say I ever learned to love them. But I sure learned to love a lot of the people I sat on the floor making cookies with or stood in the yard stirring vegetables with. 40 years ago they had no idea what Christmas was. Now they have a beautiful, cultural way to celebrate the coming of God’s Son to save us.