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.
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.
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.
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