By Bryan Hughes
In North America, there is no mistaking when Christmas approaches. Malls display holiday decorations earlier every year, the music on the radio takes on a familiar tone of jingling bells, and the pace of life quickens as the cold air of winter sets in. For Church of God missionaries around the world, the season can be very different. Yet Christmas is still Christmas, even if it isn’t at home.
In Australia, where missionaries Dwayne and Kara Goldman serve, Christmas can look more like an Independence Day celebration. Christmas-day temperatures can reach thirty degrees. It sounds a lot like Christmas, but that is thirty degrees Celsius—almost ninety degrees Fahrenheit. The Goldmans will be more likely to barbeque and go to the beach than to have sweet potatoes and build snowmen.
Kelley and Rhonda Phillips serve in Germany, where young children write letters to the Christkind to ask for presents. Christkind translates literally to “Christ child.” The glitter laden letters are left on a window sill at the beginning of Advent. Further highlighting differences around the world, the Christkind is a young girl with Christlike characteristics. She is most often depicted in a white and gold dress with a golden crown upon her blond hair and with angel wings.
Nativity scenes both large and small are common wherever one may be on the globe. However, subtle differences in design demonstrate uniqueness within a common theme of Jesus as the subject.
LeAnn Sellers, missionary to Côte d’Ivoire, shares how her indigenous nativity looks: “The angel wears a red foulard (headscarf) in place of a halo. Mary and Joseph are in bright African dress. There are more figurines than the usual number. Women stand in the background.” She continues, “These are indeed very wise men as they brought their wives along with them, and looking at the loads on their heads they have everything needed for a long journey. However, the figurine that attracts the most attention is the baby Jesus laying on a bright pagne (African cloth). He is at the heart of this scene. There is an air of normality and yet at the same time something unique, holy, and worshipful.”
Lack of normality is what Scott and Deanna Compton, missionaries to Tanzania, missed during their first Christmas on the field. “For the first time in our lives—apart from our tree—there were no obvious signs of the holiday,” Scott says. “In some ways that was very hard. Not only were we aching for the ‘normal’ that we were used to, but we were feeling the pain from missing all the people we love.”
Yet the peace of Jesus prevails. “When I look at the stars gleaming in the sky above, I don’t feel a sense of sadness or longing,” shared Scott. “I understand that when we all wake up on Christmas morning, we’ll be celebrating the same Savior. That is a bond we share and a love we have that makes distance seem very little.”
Christmas is still Christmas because Christ is still Christ. Ernie and Lori Nicholas, who serve with Kima International School of Theology (KIST) in Kenya, shared this poem last year in the Christmas edition of their newsletter:
It’s Christmas Eve… in Africa
Banana trees swaying in the tropical breeze
A rustling sound comes from among arching Bamboo leaves
Purple petals fall gently from the Jacaranda tree
It’s hard to believe it’s Christmas Eve.
The sky in the west glows gloriously in orange and reds
Drums can be heard beating out in the distance
The smell of a charcoal fire comes drifting in
It’s Christmas Eve here, but in my homeland; the day has just begun.
The obnoxious cry of an Ibis flying by
The car horn sound made by the Pied Crow
The brilliant colors of the Ross’s Turaco
All remind me of the “hustle and bustle” of this day back home.
Here there’s the beauty of a ten-foot Poinsettia decked out in red leaves
The smell of fresh Rosemary cut for decorations around our artificial tree
Flowers in the garden are blossoming in reds, white and blues
Reminding me of home as we celebrate our first Christmas Eve in Kenya.
There’s the soft glow of candlelight,
Not because the electric power is out again tonight
We celebrate with cocoa and cookies, even without the snow
Plus cheese, crackers and fruit because I live with the nurse
Then the most amazing story is read from the Bible again,
How Jesus Christ entered this world to be with us; even in Kenya.
On behalf of the Global Missions team and Church of God Ministries, may your Christmas be filled with the joy of Christ—where ever you may be.