When you hear the word Christmas, what are the first things that come to mind? For me it is playing with snow, watching Christmas movies with my mom, making Christmas cookies, spending the whole day with family, and singing “Go tell it on the Mountain” on Christmas Eve when the clock strikes 12. For everyone Christmas can mean something a little different. But when we moved to Malawi, everything was different. There was definitely no snow and as much as I hate snow, I do miss it around Christmas. Your family will not be there and maybe there will be power to make cookies and maybe not.
Being overseas during the holidays, Thanksgiving through Christmas, is the hardest season for our entire family and all of us get a little ‘homesick’. All those normal Christmas traditions have suddenly and instantly vanished. All those people that you always see are no longer there. And it is raining, raining, and raining. You see everyone else carrying on with there festivities for the season, and all of your traditions have just stopped. In Malawi pretty much nothing changes for Christmas. There are very few Christmas lights and Christmas trees.
In Malawi, from April to December it is almost completely dry here. By the time October hits, it is dry and dusty and everything is covered in brown. For us even though October is the hottest seasons, Luke and I were saying it is like our winter in the states because it can feel dreary and dark.
But then in December the rains come. And yes, when it rains here, it rains and rains and rains. But when it rains all the green pops up. Malawi is the prettiest when the rains have just started falling. The rains are a sign of hope. Everyone is in the fields planting. Everyone is hopeful that the harvest will bring a good crop and they will have enough to eat. But it is also a time from December to April that many individuals don’t have much to eat. They have spent all their money on fertilizer and planting materials. So, there isn’t much money left over for food or Christmas. This is a time in Malawi when there is an expectancy of hope, it’s like us waiting for Jesus to come back for us. We know it is coming. It is going to be glorious and wonderful but it just hasn’t happened yet.
This is our fourth Christmas in Malawi. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it gets easier but it becomes normalized. We have made new and wonderful traditions in our family. Our first Christmas here, we were able to purchase a very small Christmas tree. I brought with us about 15 ornaments so we decorate our little tree with these wonderful ornaments and a few new ones too. We each take turns all putting up the special ornaments that we like and Luke and I talk about where they all came from.
In my family our children, all the cousins, do a gift exchange. My siblings make sure that my kids are still a part of this. Then on Christmas day we call and through video chat open the presents. Some of the grandparents still buy presents for the kids. We take the kids around to the few stores that have toys, then they pick out what they like. We take pictures, put American prices on them and send them to my mom, she picks out what she likes and sends a check. The process is similar for the other grandparents too. Then Luke and I go and purchase them. Then the kids wait until 2 or 3 pm and as soon as the grandparents get up, they call us. And the kids open all the presents on video chat. Our sending church also sends a package with Christmas cards and Christmas gifts for all of us. Yes, it is different but for all of us it is the normal and it makes a huge difference. I am thankful for our families that make sacrifices so we can still celebrate Christmas together, even if we are miles and miles away.
This year Mark started a new tradition. He made a Christmas tree out of paper. Then we each made ornaments and every day we tape an ornament on the tree as a countdown to Christmas. The children had a Christmas Disney book so every night we read a story and then on Christmas Day we will read the Christmas Story. It is exciting that Christmas continues to change and expand and new traditions get made every year.
Spreading the Story
In the Bible it tells the story of Jesus’s birth, the true Christmas story. God sent his one and only Son to this earth. He came here humbly as a baby, fulfilling all the prophesies written in Isaiah. We choose to share what the Lord has given us with others this time of year and share the Christmas story with many adults and children. We have some wonderful supporters that have donated evangelism tools, books, mosquito nets, yarn for sweaters, dresses, bibles, and additional money so that way we can spread the love of Jesus to so many others. Another donor also was able to provide an eye exam and glasses for our friend’s son that needed glasses. We are so thankful that we are able to continue to spread Jesus love to so many, through the gifts of so many.
As the rain bring hopes it also brings lots of Mosquito’s with it. We attended a training and a local clinic, who was also in attendance, told the story of when they went to a poor community during this time of year and tested around 350 children. 190 of them had Malaria. Malaria can make you very, very sick even if you are completely healthy. And with many of the children and even the adults that do not have proper nutrition, it can be life threatening. One of our supporting churches children’s ministry has raised enough money for us to buy 80 mosquito nets for these families. This gift is very special to these families because it can keep these children safe during this rainy season.
I want to leave with one story from us passing out our gifts this year. I have been doing a women’s Bible Study in a village. Many of the women come faithfully, we normally have about 20 women that come. Last week there were no women that showed up due to planting their fields, since many of the women in the village do the planting. This week when we went, we were not sure how many would come since the kids are out of school. We bought gifts for about 20 women and about 30 kids. When we arrived, there were people everywhere. There were over 60 women and 100 children. Luke and I looked at each other and I thought of Jesus feeding the 5000. We did a quick prayer that God would make us have enough for everyone and we went to tell them about Jesus. I did the women and Luke taught the children, we both shared the Christmas story and about Jesus with all these people.
When it came time to pass out gifts the Lord was amazing. I passed out gifts to the women who had faithfully come to the Bible study. For the women that had not come, I just put all the left overs in a box and they could choose 1, there was just enough for every single woman, and none left. When the children lined up for the chips the same thing happened when I gave the last child his chips my bag ran out. God continues to show us over and over again how very faithful he is. He provided the perfect amount not an over abundance or not too little but the perfect amount.
Christmas is different for our entire family. We are so very blessed by all the people that shape our Christmas and the individuals in our ministry that we get to serve alongside. May your Christmas’s be blessed even if your traditions are changed. I pray that if you are like us and maybe your family is not near, that you will still be blessed by the holidays this season and God will bring you Joy and Peace.