The current issue of our semi-annual magazine, SIMnow, includes a special section of stories by some of our missionaries and workers in several countries around the world. We saved two of their submissions to publish online. We hope you will enjoy these additional glimpses into the world that Christ loved and died for.
by Micah*, SIM South Africa Missionary
I grew up in a Christian country, and Christmas was one of my favourite holidays to experience.
I loved the Christmas season and its decorations. I loved the sights of shopping centres parading the Christmas festival, as well as the sights of Christmas Fathers bringing happiness to children.
I looked forward to the Christmas rush of getting our homes cleaned and to the shopping frenzy that ensued as we looked for our favourite new clothes and gifts for our family.
I looked forward to our church traditions. We would first have Christmas plays by our Sunday school a few weeks before Christmas. Then we as a church would go carol singing in the neighbourhood, finishing with carols by candlelight. On Christmas morning, after dressing up in our new clothes, we would attend our Christmas service. Then we would go home for a huge lunch with family and friends. What pleasant memories flood my soul!
In 2009, I went to live and study in East Asia, my first experience of studying abroad. I looked forward to Christmas there, but I must confess that I was ignorant about what it would be like. That year would be my first experience of a white Christmas and my first experience of snow. In my mind, I thought Christmas there was going to be epic because of the snow. I thought everything would be bigger than my former Christmas experiences.
To my shock and amazement, I discovered that Christmas was going to be different. Firstly, I discovered that our calendars are different. To my surprise, I discovered that I had to go to school on Christmas day. It was a normal workday and a normal school day. Secondly, Christmas is eclipsed by a local holiday. Thirdly, this is a secular country that promotes atheism, so they do not celebrate Christmas officially or as a religious holiday.
Still, there are fragments of hope for an expat who misses his Christmas festival and the focus on the birth of Jesus. Even McDonald’s has become a beacon of hope in spreading the message of our Lord by playing Christmas carols throughout the season. Locals don’t know these are gospel songs celebrating and spreading the message of the birth of our Lord Jesus. Also, we expats meet together for Christmas and have a service and a meal together. That has been a great blessing.
Best of all, the house church has been an inspiration to me. We expats sometimes get so caught up in the hype of buying clothes, giving each other presents and having extravagant meals with family during Christmas, that we sometimes lose the significance of the celebration, which is Jesus. Without Christ, there is no Christmas. He is the reason for the season, and the local house churches remember this better than we do. They conduct evangelistic meetings during Christmas or leading towards Christmas, and many people have come to faith during their Christmas evangelistic meetings.
Churches around the world should learn from our brothers and sisters here that making disciples should be the focus of Christmas. The church here has no religious freedom, and its people are persecuted, yet they risk their lives to tell others about Christ during Christmas and throughout the year. Most churches here will meet on Sunday before Christmas; they don’t have Christmas trees or Father Christmas, but they do know how to celebrate and how to focus on the Gospel.
Thank you, Lord, for the church here! Christmas is different here, but their traditions give me hope that I am in the right place in this season of my life. Friends, let’s thank our Lord by spreading his Christmas message by helping someone know Christ personally and intimately. Soli Deo Gloria!
* Name has been changed.