I want to introduce you to a friend. Janel and her husband and their four kids moved to Africa a year ago as missionaries. She is a very good writer and has helped me significantly with projects like What God Wants for Christmas and the new Messiah Mystery, a family Lent experience coming in January 2013. Because this is their first Christmas in Uganda I asked her to tell us Americans about her new Christmas experience. I hope you enjoy her perspective.
“This is my first Christmas as a mzungu—a foreigner, here in equatorial Africa. And even though after a year this feels a lot like home, Christmas itself somehow feels foreign.
For one, the sun shining is away at a pleasant 80 degrees, so no Jack Frost nipping at your nose; there are no light displays, few Christmas programs or parties, few ingredients for our favorite treats, no bell-ringers or store decorations—and most people can’t afford presents, much less new ones.
But even though decking the halls—or the lack thereof—reminds me how far I am from family and everything familiar, I think God uses our senses to cement our minds to the unseen. The familiar hoopla is not all trivial. It’s a taste-it-see-it-smell-it-feel-it-hear-it cue for our brains to remember, this is good stuff. This is what’s worth celebrating, worth pulling out all the stops. Taste and see—our God is good. God Himself brought “good tidings of great joy which shall be for all the people”—with His own music, lights, décor, gifts, and guests.
So. I am setting my internal bah-humbug aside, and we are getting creative, making salt-dough ornaments; homemade marshmallows; paper snowflakes (my youngest calls them “cornflakes”. Have we been here too long?). I’m blasting Christmas music and dancing around with my kids…though I admit to fast-forwarding “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
I don’t want my kids to think, “I can’t wait till we can actually celebrate Christmas in the States.” They can’t miss the significance of this day, of the magnitude of God’s gift. Really, I shouldn’t either.
And there are definite perks to a tropical Christmas. A Ugandan friend helped hoist the kids up to suspend paper decorations from our hand-me-down tree, singing along with “Joy to the World.” I love that Christmas is intentional this year: a lot less stuff and distraction from the real Gift, a little more originality. And there is nothing quite like belting carols with my African friends and their bongos.
No, this year won’t be the same. But that’s not all bad.”