For many of us, Christmas can be a time of joy and excitement as well as a time of stress and sorrow. For me, the joy of celebrating Jesus’ birth, the joys of seeing my kids’ excitement, and the pleasure of finding gifts of others is mixed with the stress of additional activities, shopping, and trying to keep Jesus at the center. For some, Christmas brings the joy of being around family, for others, sorrow at the memories of a loved one who has passed away or sorrow at not having a family to spend it with. For many of us, Christmas is a mix of emotions.
Missionaries serving overseas experience these same mixed emotions but often in unique ways because many are far from their homes, family, and friends. For many missionaries, Christmas means new and natural opportunities to share our faith and to talk about Jesus. Christmas means enjoying new traditions in your host country and celebrating Jesus’ birth with other followers of Jesus.
On the flip side, most missionaries miss their family and friends during the Christmas season and many miss the traditional Christmas activities of our own culture. If you’re serving in a hot, non-Christian country it may not “feel” much like Christmas! Imagine living in a place with no signs of Christmas. No lights, nothing special in stores, no decorations anywhere, no Christmas music on the radio, no day off of work…this is the reality for many missionaries. Christmas is a great time to encourage those missionaries you know. Here are a few ways you can encourage a missionary this Christmas.
(Note: Before you try something suggested below, please ask the missionary first. Some missionaries work in countries that are hostile to Christian missionaries and evangelism. Some countries monitor internet traffic, read foreigners mail and open their packages. You certainly don’t want your good intentions to get a missionary in trouble so please check with them to see what is appropriate. Also, if you mail a package, it may take a long time to arrive (we lived in a country where it took 3 months!) and some countries will charge the missionary customs fees so ask the best way to mail something to them.)
1) Send them an email. This is the easiest suggestion on the list. Simply send them an email wishing them a Merry Christmas. You can share a little bit about how you are celebrating Christmas, any fun or funny stories, and maybe what is going on at your church. Ask the missionary if they will be doing anything special for Christmas and what local believers do. This may sound simple, and it is, but the missionary will be encouraged that you remembered them and will appreciate hearing about activities at home. You could even attach a family picture to make it a little more personal.
2) Email a link to your church’s Christmas service. Many churches record their weekly services, either in audio or video format. If you email a missionary, and it is appropriate to do so (based on their country of service), go ahead and include the link to the service. If it is the missionary’s home church, they will appreciate it!
3) Video your family singing a Christmas carol and wishing the missionary Merry Christmas. This virtual Christmas caroling can be a fun way to surprise a missionary. They will enjoy it and be encouraged that you remembered them and took the time to make a recording for them.
4) Video your Christmas party and have guests send their greetings. If your family, Bible study or other group is having a Christmas party, record a short video of the party activities and invite guests to get on camera wishing the missionary a Merry Christmas. This can be a fun idea, especially if the missionary knows many of the people at the party.
5) Arrange to speak on Skype. You can arrange a time to do a Skype call with the missionary. It doesn’t have to be long nor does it have to be on Christmas day, but this can be a great way to see the missionaries you care about face to face and hear how they will celebrate Christmas.
6) Mail a church bulletin or local newspaper. Many missionaries would enjoy getting a copy of the church bulletin or a copy of a local newspaper with articles about local Christmas activities. This can be a sweet reminder of home and bring fond memories of Christmas traditions in their home country.
7) Send an eBook or digital music. Buy the missionary a digital version of your favorite book or a good book you read this past year or a digital copy of your favorite album. Many missionaries have Kindles or the Kindle app on their phone and would enjoy a new book or a new music album, especially if it is a personal pick from a friend or supporter.
8) Mail a Christmas card. Including missionaries on your Christmas card list can be fun. Many missionaries send regular prayer letters with updates about their life but rarely get updates from supporters. Sending your annual family Christmas letter or a card can be a great way to encourage a missionary and they will enjoy hearing what is going on in your life. You can even include prayer requests, most missionaries would love to pray for you too!
9) Send a Christmas package to the missionary children. Sometimes Christmas can be hard for missionary kids. They miss celebrating with family and the fun traditions of their home country. Sending a package with some Christmas treats or presents for the kids can be really great. The parents will be really touched by this as well. I still remember when friends from our home church sent our oldest son a whole box of Lightening McQueen presents, he was over the moon. Another year, our old small group sent our kids a small box of kids’ books (in English!). Katie and I were really touched by occasions like these.
10) Send a care package for the whole family. Missionaries love getting care packages with news and treats from home. If you ask ahead of time, many missionaries will gladly tell you items they would love to receive. For our family it was always good coffee and other unobtainable food items. Your missionaries will have their own wish list I’m sure!
Missionaries experience their own highs and lows at Christmas but hearing from you and knowing that you are thinking and praying for them can be a huge encouragement and can really make their Christmas special. Who knows, it may even be one of the highlights of your Christmas too!