Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. Welcome to episode 22 of Missions on Point. This happens to be scheduled to be released on Christmas Day, 2020. So this is a special Christmas edition, if you will. Maybe not quite as organized as some of the other ones, and it actually does fall in the chain of missionary care.

Because we're going to talk just a little bit about missionary care in the Christmas season, and what Christmas is like for missionaries on the field, so that you can empathize a bit with them.

I'd like to lead off with the thought that Christmas is a great time for missionaries to actually be on the field. The celebration of Christmas and all the things that go with it are really, at its core, looking back to the gospel message in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

That celebration is extensive in its impact on the world, but it is exclusive for those who repent and have faith in Christ as their Lord and Savior. So it is a very important time for missionaries to be there. It's one of the reasons that they're there, is because there actually was a historic Christmas incarnational birth of Jesus Christ, and life and then death on the cross and resurrection, which is God's provision of salvation. So this element of the story, the Christmas story, is very significant to missionaries personally, and missionaries ministerially in their proclamation of the gospel.

Missionary care is always a priority, but the Christmas season represents unique needs and opportunities for missionary care. Their situations are very different than what they would be at home. And if you can just imagine being in their shoes a bit during this time, being a long, long way away from family, from friends, from the trappings of tradition at home. No matter where they are in the world, missionaries have difficulty in finding the basic ingredients of the foods that are most common and most cherished by them in the Christmas season.

The climate may be very different. If they're in the Southern Hemisphere, the climate will be hot instead of cold. If they're in the Northern Hemisphere or far north, it may be very colder than they are normally in their home. If they're in a historically Christian area, there may be all kinds of traditions, and foods, and events that are different than what they're used to, and they find it difficult just to try to fit in and understand what all these things mean.

If they're stationed in a place that does not have a Christian tradition, they may be faced with pressure to not display or be extravagant in their celebration of Christmas at all. If they're in predominantly Muslim lands, Christmas may not be a holiday, it may be a regular business day, and they may suffer some prejudice for even recognizing and observing Christmas at all.

Of course, we at home empathize with the lack, perhaps, of Christmas trappings for particularly the really young children of missionary families. You shouldn't think that way, because they will have other things that are appropriate and function as their special Christmas tradition, regardless of what the trappings are back in their home country.

So while it may actually be some kind of a sacrifice in their heart to not be at home for Christmas, don't make too much of it. Because they're actually creating new Christmas traditions, not only for them, but for the potential local believers that will come around to understand Christmas in their own way, in their country, in their culture, with whatever means they have available there to celebrate.

I remember one Christmas on the field, we were determined to have a Turkey for Christmas dinner. But turkeys were not normally sold in the marketplace where we were in a tribal area, so we had to contract with a local farmer to grow a Turkey. And when we got it, it was so skinny. The breast was basically concave, and it was almost all bones when we roasted it in our tiny little oven. We didn't have cranberry sauce and potatoes, we had rice and whatever gravy we could make.

Even family, if they wanted to send us gifts, had to anticipate a long time in advance. And those gifts, if they were not pretty small and obscure, they might be appropriated by the people handling customs in the post office.

One Christmas, we got our little Christmas box from some friends in February. So we had Christmas in February. In today's world, they have such a range of communication, email, phone, video calls of a variety of software apps, and lots of opportunity to be able to communicate and to kind of see each other at Christmas time. The missionary parents have to be pretty creative about what they do and how they do it around Christmas time.

They don't want to make too much of it. They don't want to make too big a distinction between their kids and other families in the neighborhood. And yet, they have to keep a balance of satisfying their Christmas itch, so to speak, and pleasing their family and children. While not confusing that with the actual true meaning of Christmas, and the proclamation of the gospel in the incarnation of Christ.

It certainly is a time when missionaries work hard to try to have social events together, even if they can't celebrate more widely in their neighborhood. We tried to make it a point to host other missionaries in our home for Christmas time, young couples who didn't have family, or single ladies who didn't have family around. We learned a lot of things from them, from their Christmas traditions. And even foods, we learned about Australian pavlova from an Australian single lady that stayed in our home the week of Christmas.

So a key concept in the minds of missionaries during Christmastime is flexibility and adaptability. What can we do here? What's available, what's not available? How can we adapt it, and not lose the core celebration of the incarnation in our spiritual life and ministry?

One of the features, when we were on the field, was the local culture demanded that wealthier people give gifts and alms, if you will, to poorer people in the neighborhood or in the community. This climaxed in our area on Christmas Eve, where poor people went around house to house through the whole village, around in a farming community in the mountains where it could be a long way between houses and villages, and sang themselves Christmas songs, hoping to get gifts of money or food or other things from the listeners. If the carolers had been drinking along the way, they could be well drunk before midnight.

I don't want to go into detail here, but we certainly ate some strange foods for Christmas because of the local tradition and the poverty in our area where we work. So I would just encourage you to be mindful of your missionaries around Christmas season. It's easy to get so caught up in all the things locally, and our own family and church events. What's going on with schools, and neighborhoods, and communities that we forget that it can be a really lonely time. It can be depressing for some missionaries away from home through the Christmas season.

It can be a special time to do something for your missionaries in a special way. The key is to plan early, simple logistics and group dynamics within your church present certain kinds of obstacles of time and transit and transport for delivery of things. Because of customs regulations and duties on things, you probably aren't going to be sending big packages of things. It just costs too much. It might not ever get to its intended recipient.

And you need to know by communication with your missionaries what kind of things they actually want or need, or what's the best way to get it to them. Sometimes in today's time, they may have an Amazon wishlist. And you may be able to supply things to them even digitally that you never were able to in years before.

If someone is visiting the field and can hand-deliver things that's optimal. If you want to send them money to spend on their own Christmas stuff, you might need to check with their mission agency to find out what's the best way to do that as a personal gift, and not as just extra support.

And remember to be sensitive. They may be in a population that is dominantly opposed to Christianity. You don't want to create a situation that is adversarial for them. Blatant references to Christmas, and the Christ child, and the incarnation may be offensive to people around them. So be careful how you communicate, what you communicate, the words you use, and how big a deal you make of it.

Appropriate sensitivity extends to the emotional needs of your missionaries. Asking them, how do they feel about it? Finding out if they need a special touch of counsel, or care, or encouragement during these times to show love to them. What about their college-aged children who may be away from home during Christmas in college? Maybe they even need a place to stay because the dorm is closed.

And on the other hand, it is a wonderful time to pray for your missionaries to have opportunities to share the gospel. What better time of year to share the gospel of Jesus Christ than the time around the celebration of his incarnation? That is amazing. Pray that God would give them insight, and wisdom, and vocabulary, and all the right things to communicate the gospel during this end of year celebration of Christmas.

As you and your family gather and celebrate Christmas, take a moment and pray for your missionaries. Pray that they wouldn't feel sad or depressed. Pray that they would be effective in communicating the love of God and the person of Jesus Christ to their friends and neighbors, their coworkers, their vendors, the people they see in the business community, day by day, week by week that they would communicate the gospel.

Hey, Merry Christmas. Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, Please preferably consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus, forever and ever. Amen.

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