A Very (Missionary) Christmas

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Imagine December in A Land Without Steeples (p.16), a place away from pumpkin (sorry, sweet potato) pie, without the Carpenters singing to you from every radio about chestnuts roasting over an open fire. Walmart and Amazon Prime may not be just a click away, no free, two-day shipping. Would it even be December? Would Christmas even be coming?

When pondering and praying through the decision to commit the entirety of their family’s lifestyle—country of residence, food, language, community, routine, finances—to the Lord, I doubt many missionaries consider that Christmas would drastically change as well. But when a missionary family moves to take the gospel to isolated, unreached people groups or post-Christian metropolitan areas, the traditions and rituals of the Christmas season must adapt and grow alongside everything else. 

Brad and Cari, missionaries on stateside assignment from East Asia living in the FBC missionary house through mid-December, shared their experience of adjustment:

“Our first Christmas, we tried to do a lot of our family traditions to make it seem as much like our typical American Christmas as possible. After all that effort, it just seemed weird. I grew up with lots of (loud) family around at Christmastime, so just having the three of us on Christmas morning just felt too quiet. The next Christmas, we had just moved to a new city, and all of our Christmas presents our parents had mailed were stuck in customs and delayed about a month. After that, we resolved that we would be letting go of trying to make Christmas traditional and try to embrace new traditions, instead. 

That's how the idea of asking for a Christmas team was born. We emailed Michael Ball (director of the MSU Baptist Student Union) and begged him to send us a team of college students for Christmas. It was one of our favorite holidays we've ever celebrated. It centered around mentoring eight amazing college students as they shared the good news with the locals around them. We saw the Father do some amazing things on that trip. We plan to ask for an MSU group for Christmas every year as long as we're able. Plus, I got my loud Christmas with a house full of people. 

Growing up, my family always had a big Christmas Eve appetizer dinner. That's been the one thing that we've kept since living in East Asia. We open our home to friends and coworkers and serve appetizers, including a few Asian ones. I've even perfected the Chick-fil-A chicken nugget! For Christmas Day, we cure, glaze and bake our own ham, plus a lot of traditional American sides like macaroni and cheese, green beans, and rolls. I still love decorating for Christmas. We've slowly been collecting and bringing over Christmas decorations.”

Chris Bushby Rutagengwa, who grew up at FBC, lives and serves in Rwanda with husband Godfrey and son Bennett. Their Christmas traditions include festive pajamas on Christmas Eve and barbequing a whole goat, “even the intestines, which are a favorite of Godfrey’s.” 

Jay and Melissa, FBC members who served in the Middle East, described their experience:

“Christmas that [first] year was a truly unique experience. We were living in a borrowed house, on borrowed furniture, in a borrowed country. But what made that holiday the strangest was that Christmas Day was right in the middle of Ramadhan, the month of fasting for Muslims. Most non-Muslim internationals didn’t fast during the day, but we were respectful, keeping our eating and drinking behind closed doors. It was challenging enough to try to piece together a recognizable Christmas dinner in a place where turkeys were scarce and hams were non-existent!  And do all that while the other million people in town were fasting from dawn till dusk? How would I find a piece of broast (fried chicken) to satisfy my family tradition? The next Christmas, we figured it out by importing my parents to fry the chicken (and of course, to visit).”

For these missionaries and countless more, I’m sure that the sacrifice of American Christmas traditions is completely worth the opportunity to serve the Lord by sharing the gospel. It is a good reminder for us stateside, as well, to examine how we keep Christmas and what really matters this season. Matthew 6:21 reminds us that the allocation of our most precious, limited resources reflects the condition and focus of our heart.  Where does your money go? Where does your time go?

One way that you can refocus your heart and time on Jesus and family this month is through The Invitation, this year’s Christmas devotional guide which accompanies the eponymous Christmas sermon series. Use it to simplify and slow down, a very un-American method of keeping Christmas. Another way to turn your heart to God this season is through the fruits of your labor: your bank account; “for where your treasure lies, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). 

Every year since 1888, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has been collected in support of international missions. FBC’s Roy McKay, a retired missionary and pastor, said:

“Our gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering support those who take the gospel to unreached peoples who would otherwise never hear the good news about Jesus Christ. As a church, we want to be one of the best supporters of our missionaries who work in some of the most difficult and remote areas of the world. We want to be sure that there will be followers of Jesus Christ and healthy churches among every tribe, language, nation and people group all over the world for the glory of God!

Marcia and I were given the responsibility to reach one such group of people in an isolated, mountainous region of the world in the late 1980s. At the time, there were only eight known believers and no churches out of a population of 2.5 million! I recently heard there are now over 3,000 believers and 300 churches who worship and praise our Lord Jesus! There are thousands more who need to hear the gospel in this people group alone. Through our combined prayers and sacrificial gifts, millions more can hear the good news and believe Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God!”

This year, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering national goal is $160 million; FBC’s goal is $90,000. Join with FBC and Southern Baptists to support International Mission Board missionaries as they share the gospel with the world. Give to Lottie Moon in the month of December, and go to imb.org to find out more.

Missionaries across the globe have sacrificed many of their American Christmas traditions for the sake of the gospel. What can you give up this Christmas towards that same end?

Kathryn Entrekin