Friday, November 29, 2013


With the holidays come times of both joy and sorrow for many missionaries. Living in another culture can take its toll, and there are occasions when you just want to escape and go back to where you are from. In my experience, the holiday season usually accentuates these times of homesickness. You begin to feel nostalgic and really miss the family back home. Feasibly you cannot break away from the work you are doing and buy a plane ticket, so you gut it out until your next furlough.

What are missionaries to do? How can they make the best out of their holidays? Below, I tackle seven holiday issues most missionaries face. These are the tips I recommend to help remedy the situation. They are by no means perfect solutions, but they may brighten up your festive celebrations nonetheless.

1) Homesickness

Your family is far away and you just want to get back there to see them. You may even be feeling guilty about moving overseas. If you have children, they too are missing their grandparents and cousins. Most likely, the family you left is missing you just as much. Suddenly Thanksgiving is upon you and the whole family is experiencing a little bit of sorrow.

Honestly, this first one is the hardest to fix. Family bonds are strong and to be away is really difficult. Fortunately, technology is on the missionary's side. Not only can we connect instantly on social networks like Facebook, but video chatting has never been easier. Free programs like Skype and FaceTime have connected the world like never before. (Seriously, I remember watching episodes of the Jetsons when I was a kid where video phones seemed so futuristic.) Make sure to schedule an appointment with your family. Most likely there is a drastic time difference, so having it planned ahead of time is crucial.

Making friends with other missionary families can be another good way to keep holiday traditions alive. By celebrating together, you can create a festive atmosphere, not to mention divvying up the meal preparation. Finally, scheduling your next furlough during the holidays is a good way to catch up with your relatives and enjoy some of the family traditions that you miss so much.

2) Food

Turkey on Thanksgiving... Ham for Easter... Christmas cookies!!! Each holiday has its own flavor. Depending on the country you serve in, some of these foods can be hard to come by. And if you are a first year missionary, still getting your feet wet, you might be running all over the place looking for the right ingredients.

Again, this is where having other missionary friends can come in handy. Combined, you may have years of experience in you city and know exactly where to buy everything you need. Yet, there are always some things that are just too difficult find. Here's where a little creativity is necessary. I offer two suggestions. First, you can have a care package delivered to you from your home church or from extended family. Unfortunately this will work for non-parishible items only. The second option is to create some new food traditions of your own. Maybe there is a native food that you especially love. (I really love Tom Ka Gai.) Try adding it to the menu and test it out. If it doesn't feel right, keep an eye out throughout the year for something that might just work.

3) Decorations

If finding food is a difficulty, decorations are a nightmare. Christmas is coming soon, but you have no tree, no lights and no wreath. What are you to do? Again, care packages can be helpful here, though it would have to be a pretty big box if you want a Christmas tree delivered. If you are crafty, you can always build a makeshift tree and decorations, but that might not be a permanent solution.

My best suggestion is to use your furloughs as opportunities to bring back what you will need. When you travel, pack light. Most airlines will allow you to check two pieces of luggage for long distance international flights. If you only bring one piece of luggage, you can purchase what you need from your home country and use a second piece of luggage on the way back to transport it.

Another proposed solution can come in the form of mission teams. If a team from your home church is visiting, be bold and ask if they can help you out. Usually a person needs only one suitcase for a two or three week trip.  Ask if they can each bring an extra piece of luggage with them. With a team of five or six people, you will have all your decoration needs in no time.

4) Weather

Maybe to you, Christmas means snow. (By the way, it rarely snows in Israel, and most likely didn't when Jesus was born, so living in a tropical climate doesn't have to mean it doesn't feel like Christmas.) I grew up in Michigan, so snow was pretty much a given in late December. Living in Thailand, I'm pretty much out of luck. Yet warm weather doesn't mean I have to forgo the Christmas spirit. Time to crank up the AC and put on some warmer clothes. I know it doesn't make fiscal sense, but sometimes its nice to put on a pair of sweats and a hoodie, especially if you are watching a football game.

5) Football

Speaking of football, on both Thanksgiving and New Year's Day Americans are notorious for watching football. I have to see my Lions play every Thanksgiving, and there are plenty of good bowl games to watch on New Years Day. The problem is, the games you want to watch aren't always shown in your country, and if they are, you may have to stay up till the middle of the night to watch them.

You can take this piece of advice with a grain of salt. There are many websites that will the stream the games live for you. (I'll let you figure out which on your own.) The legality of these sites is in question, depending on the country you live in. If you choose not to go that route, a Slingbox might be a good solution. Time to roast some coffee, because you may be up in the middle of the night cheering on your favorite team.

6) The Holiday Doesn't Match Your Work Schedule

If you are a tent maker, you may run into trouble getting time off of work. I know many missionaries that teach at schools. This can be a problem, because the schools don't recognize these crazy Western holidays. If you want to celebrate Thanksgiving, you need to get what seems like a random Thursday off. Usually this involves finding a substitute teacher to fill in for you. Yet if you plan in advance, it can be done without a hitch.

Another suggestion would be to celebrate on a different day. Find a weekend day that is near to that holiday and choose it to be your day of festivities. Try to get some other missionaries to join you in your endeavor and make it a big party.

7) Unwanted Guests

Every year, I have Thai people asking me what I do to celebrate American holidays. Some are just curious, but others are looking for ways to get themselves invited. They may keep giving you subtle hints, or, if they are bold enough, they may just show up at your house unannounced. If you are an extrovert, then by all means include them in on your plans. I myself am not. I like the holidays to be just me and my family.

There are a couple things that you can do here. First, be firm with people that you desire some privacy with your family members. Many missionaries are afraid to do this thinking it could be a bad witness. I've found that most people are understanding when you break from culture. They know that you will not always do things according to their traditions, and usually they are ok with that.

A second approach would be to set aside a different day for you to celebrate the holiday with the people you are ministering to. I've done this with at least four different holidays. They get to experience an American tradition, yet at the same time, I get to have my own private celebration with my family. This is a good way to be both a good witness and a good family member.

On a final note, remember some of the advantages to living in another country. Enjoy the less busy holidays you will experience. Most likely the mall will be less busy. You could probably do all your Christmas shopping on Christmas eve and get away with it. Also, you don't have to drive to a million places and go to a million parties. You can just enjoy your time off with your family listening to Christmas Carols and watching It's A Wonderful Life.

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