When the pieces don’t fit

by Richelle Wright on December 19, 2012


It has been an absolutely and totally crazy first semester to my son’s senior year of high school.

It hasn’t been anything like what I hoped and dreamed for him.

In August – barely a week into the new school year – the river rose, the dike failed, the campus flooded and school abruptly stopped. Local authorities declared the campus officially a part of the Niger River until waters would recede and the dike could be rebuilt and reinforced – in April of next year.

The next three weeks a frenzy of activity ensued:  rescuing textbooks, school records, computers, pianos from the flooded campus buildings – mostly by canoe, cleaning and restoring furniture and other equipment that had sat in murky river water and worse for several days, new buildings located and readied (and anyone who’s tried to prepare local buildings in the developing world for habitation or use, knows that is no small feat), and finally schedules and classes rearranged and redistributed to spread our staff over two campuses while trying to make up lost educational hours.

School began again, but now everyone was already exhausted and in most cases, just tying the proverbial knot and hoping to hang on until Christmas vacation. That definitely included me.

So yes… Last Friday, relieved, I exhaled “Finally…”

Today, school books are mostly sequestered away in book bags shoved under beds or armoirs awaiting the New Year and we’ve got a bit more time on our hands to catch our breaths, bake, read, watch movies, build bonfires and roast marshmallows and, of course, work on jigsaw puzzles.

And that’s when it dawned on me… the Christmas season is nearly half over and as far as I was concerned, it hadn’t ever actually arrived. Or, I hadn’t noticed it had.

Then I started thinking about possibly my favorite family Christmas tradition: puzzle pieces spread on a table by the tree which becomes a cooperative family effort accompanied by often profound conversation, friendly competition, childish chatter, laughter, some frustration, hot chocolate or cider… all of which always leads to neglected bedtimes.

Remembering puzzles pierced the fog.

How can a missionary forget Christmas? How does one who lives and longs to communicate the message that, at its very core, is “God so loved… that He gave His only Son…” forget to ponder and celebrate both the Gift and the Giver? At this time of the year, especially?

Needless to say, I’m feeling a little less than the “good” missionary.

Many moons ago, as we sat in classes to theoretically prepare us to be those “good” missionaries and our imminent departure for the mission field, I heard someone say that Jesus was the first and only 100% missionary.

He alone has fully entered a foreign culture and completely become a participant of that new world while integrally remaining Who He was, back in His “heaven” culture.

Fully God. Fully man. God incarnate. God with us.

While I was able to intellectually grasp that concept when I first heard it, I believe I now have a better been-there-and-tried-to-have-done-that-but-mostly-failed understanding of at least this one aspect of what Jesus accomplished.

Christmas time always reminds me that it’s really hard, a sacrifice, to give up what you know and love to start all over in a world where most things are unfamiliar, you can’t communicate (for even if you can say the words, you’re sure to get the context or the nonverbal stuff all wrong), and skills once mastered must be completely relearned in a new context. Which you do. You learn. You adapt. You change. You become… And then you go home to think you’ll catch your breath to discover that you no longer fit. So you keep learning. Adapt again. Change some more.

It feels like someone has dumped all the puzzles, mixed up the pieces, thrown you back into the wrong box, and you now can’t figure out where or how you fit.

According to the Bible, Jesus has been there and done that.

He knows culture (and reverse culture) shock, burn out, and learning to live life while walking faithful and obedient in a strange new world. That’s a part of what we’re remembering during this “holy-day” season.

Additionally? Remembering this First Advent heralds the imminence of a coming, second one. 

Fully God. Fully man. God incarnate. He will FOREVER be God with us.


As you celebrate this season, what do you find hard? What do you love about an expat Christmas?

 What thoughts meander through your heart and mind as you remember that God is, remains, and will be forever with us?

– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

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About Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. |ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com|
  • Cathy Paxson

    In some ways I envy missionaries because you aren’t involved in the commercial mess of Christmas. Perhaps you can have more time to really focus on family and on Christ and why he came. This year my circumstances helped me do a better job of focusing. My mom passed away late Sept. and I’m still grieving. So I just avoided some of the extra stuff, and I found a way that works for me to do gifting without shopping. So the season can be what you make it. We get to be with our daughter and her 4 kids for Christmas, and with our older daughter and family later that week. I’m very excited about that! We can go to them, since we have the time to travel and they don’t. Have a very Christ focused and Merry Christmas, Wrights.

    • totally, I never liked Christmas in the states.

    • Richelle Wright

      That’s very true, Cathy. Of course, we get busy and distracted, too… much of the time by “ministry” itself. Sounds like you have a lovely time planned with family. Wishing you the same… Merry, full of love and Christ focused this holiday season.

  • Thank you so much for posting this!!!!! I have been feeling very different these days, torn between two cultures, and it is so comforting to remember that Jesus was also a missionary.

    God bless you.

    • Richelle Wright

      So glad you found this encouraging.

      Wishing you a truly blessed Christmas season and each time the “torn-between-two-cultures-feeling” surfaces, may those feelings remind you that you are following on a path Emmanuel has already walked…

  • Liz K

    This is our first Christmas here and I really have enjoyed not having a hundred things to do and 18 parties to go to. We can just be. And dwell. This is the first time in years I have been able to mediate for a long time on the whole story and reason. What I don’t like about this Christmas is we are suddenly having to drive to a neighboring country to renew our visas. Like as in TOMORROW! Yikes, it’s been one thing after another this week…but we are trying to still rest in the Truth.

    • Bummer, sorry about the visa-run! No Fun.

      But I agree, there is something quiet and wholesome about holidays overseas. They are without much of the chaos and distraction of celebrating stateside. I guess the trick is to enjoy the gift of that as much as possible instead of dwelling on what you don’t have.
      Merry Christmas, Liz, to you and yours . . . .


      • Good advice… “enjoy the gift of that as much as possible instead of dwelling on what you don’t have”

    • Glad you are treasuring this first Christmas overseas. They are definitely quieter and much less bombardment of all the trappings we associate with Christmas in the West. I love how you are taking the time to meditate on the story… Kinda of crazy how sometimes, it is our churches back home that add to the craziness – Christmas programs, cantatas or living nativities, cookie exchanges, Sunday school parties – the idea is good, but maybe the number of options is part of the problem. We aren’t very good at saying no if it sounds like it might be fun or we think people expect us to be there…

      Hope you have a safe visa renewal drive and a blessed, tranquil Christmas, Liz.

  • I like being somewhat removed from the stress and pressure of all the activities that seem to pile up into December. Office Christmas parties and school activities and shopping mall craziness and … the list goes on. But I miss some of the things that go along with that too. Christmas music playing in public. Decorations. Gingerbread. Etc. Here in Laos Christmas is barely even acknowledged.

    • Maybe because of the age of our kids and their involvement in the expat community as well as our obligations within our local Christian community – sometimes it feels crazier here – not the whole season, but definitely Christmas Eve and Day, New Year’s Eve and Day times.

      Since it isn’t “traditional” it doesn’t “feel” like Christmas. It isn’t bad, it’s just different. This will be our third consecutive Christmas – longest stretch I’ve gone yet… and I’m missing the N. American traditional stuff this year more than I remember.

  • I miss being with family at Christmas. This year will be our son’s first Christmas, and it’s hard to be away from family who will miss that. We love being able to be ‘family’ together with the people on our team in England. This year we’ll be celebrating Christmas with a couple of families!

    • It is hard – but so glad you’ve got “family” in your team members. May you have a blessed Christmas Season and take lots of photos of your little guy for family back home!

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  • lauraparkerblog

    Richelle, as always, as ALWAYS, I love your words, wisdom, and perspective. Thanks for being a constant source of Light and pointing the rest of us in a good direction . . . . Merry Christmas, friend.

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