A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. (Prov. 25:11)
When you think of missionaries on a foreign field during the holidays, you may think about the sacrifice they make by being away from family during that special time. Yes, that is true! We sorely miss our new nephews and nieces, siblings, parents and grandparents, as well as our home church family.
However, another huge challenge missionaries face is how to adjust to a climate and customs much different from what they have known the first 30 years (more or less) of their lives. In this foreign country, many customs are just that — foreign. Eating the main holiday meal late at night on the 24th, opening gifts and shooting off fireworks at midnight, and then sleeping in on Christmas morning are just a few of the differences.
We are in the Southern Hemisphere, so Christmas falls during the summer. Instead of the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year), we are going through the time of the summer solstice (the longest day of the year). That means it doesn’t get dark until close to 9 pm. It goes without saying that the summer weather is a part of our Christmas as well. (This Christmas Eve, the heat index hit 111 degrees!) The heat alters our activities and even our menu. For example, I have learned it’s really not a good idea to roast a turkey or bake Christmas cookies, especially on a hot day, in a house with no air conditioning! Turning the oven on for 2 to 3 hours can have undesirable effects on one’s energy level! Instead of fighting against our circumstances, we are learning (yes, even after 7 years on the field) how to accept them and still have the type of Christmas we are accustomed to as a family. We adjust our menu according to the heat as well as the ingredients available to us here (which usually means making everything from scratch, from the cocktail sauce to the cherry pie.) Allow me to interject here that we are very thankful for the rich bounty Argentina offers — a diversity of fruits, vegetables, meats, and yes, even convenience foods.
Though family and food are elements of Christmas festivities, they are certainly not the motive or the focus of the holiday for the Christian. Honestly, it’s a blessing that our scaled-down, simplified Christmases on the mission field help us to stay centered on the true meaning of the holiday. We are not distracted with attending one thousand and one Christmas parties or breaking the bank to buy “bigger and better” gifts for extended family and business associates.
One Christmas tradition we began when our children were just toddlers was to have a “birthday party for Jesus” on Christmas Eve. I made a birthday cake or cupcakes and let the kids help decorate. We used a #1 candle to signify that Jesus is the only way and that He should have first place in our lives.
When we began a work in Pilar, we brought that tradition to the church. The idea was that most of the folks would be celebrating Christmas that night with unsaved family, and this special service would be a spiritual oasis in the desert of worldliness that surrounds us. It is always a special time of singing, testimonies, and focusing on our Savior Jesus Christ.
Of course, I love to hear the testimonies of how God is working in various ways in people’s lives. We hear of His provision, families being changed by His Word, and spiritual growth through obedience and trials. A few shared how they are thankful for our sacrifice to leave our families to minister in Argentina and how they appreciate the time and energy we’ve invested in them. Their sweet words brought tears to our eyes and will be marked down in history as the best Christmas gift of 2012. Those “apples of gold” served as a timely encouragement to keep on keeping on — despite the difficult adjustments! Praise the Lord for the work He is doing!