I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

Is Christmas a joyful time for you filled with family and friends? Is it full of traditions and wonderful memories? What does Christmas time mean to you? Do you know that Christmas time is often the hardest, most emotional time of the year that can be filled with grief for a lot of missionaries? Do you know it can be one of the most confusing and challenging times of year for those of us on the field? Let me give you a glimpse into my mind during this time of year in hopes that you will know how to better support the missionaries in your life.

This is my third Christmas on the field and to say I’ve learned a lot is an under statement; so is it to say I have a lot more to learn about what we need as a family during Christmas time. Last year I explained how the Holidays are work here and what that looks like. This year much is the same as that post but overall I would say I’m doing better emotionally this year than the previous two. Either my expectations have been better adjusted after the previous two years or perhaps my “family time emotional bucket” is more full going into this season from my Mom and Aunt’s visit in October- November. Maybe it is a little of both. For whatever reason I am coping better with the changes and I dont find myself crying as much as I have in previous years.

Yes, crying. Crying is a part of Christmas time for many missionaries, including myself. Have you ever actually listened to ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’ when you’ve been far away? How about ‘I’ll have a blue Christmas?’ ‘White Christmas’ in the tropics anyone? Even other Christmas songs that are traditional for your family stir up treasured memories that also can bring a pang of loneliness and grief.

Christmas is the time of year when it’s hard to not feel forgotten for many missionaries. Everyone you love back home is so busy with everything that comes with the season and not having a physical presence in their lives anymore is hard. No more shopping trips together where you hide presents in your carts from one another, no more sharing a time together over some hot cider, no more hugs and shared smiles, no more snowball fights, no more laughing together at the annual ‘white elephant’ Christmas party, etc. Instead you sit on the other side of the world remembering those times while pictures of them happening without you pop up on Facebook. At times it feels like your presence before didn’t matter because neither does your absence now. Take a break from the busy and let your missionary know you remember those times you shared, what they meant to you and most importantly that you are thinking of them still. Let them know that you miss them, that you still care and do whatever you can to make them feel remembered and connected during this potentially lonely time. Skype them, call them, write them, send a Christmas card, send a package, repost that old memory photo on Facebook. Remember them (but don’t be shocked if they cry when you do 😉).

Christmas time is a time of grieving. Grieving that you took the time you had with your family for granted in the past. Grieving that you don’t have time with them now. Grieving for the traditions that are now lost to you. Grieving because you’re now conflicted during the time of year that used to be happy. Grieving the loss of some team mates that were around for Christmas last year and helped you get through it. Grieving because you’re confused. You might have a missionary who is dealing with grief during this time of year and all that comes with that process. Don’t be surprised if your missionary is very emotional in one way or another – gushy in sentiment, closed off from the pain, cries at seemingly nothing, etc. We need Grace and compassion here – we miss you so don’t be shocked when I cry at seeing your face on skype or that photo.

Confused you say? Yes, confused. The calendar says it’s Christmas but it looks like summer. Your mind tells you its supposed to be cold and snowy outside but instead it’s 90 some degrees out. Normally you loved this time of year and it was a happy one – now its difficult and emotional. Confused about what traditions to have with your family in your new situation. Confused about what you and your family need during this time of year. What do I need to make it feel like Christmas? Don’t be surprised if your missionary can’t answer this question, especially if they are newer to the field. Look at us, we’ve already had two years and are going into our third of trying to figure this out. Piece by piece. This may take some patience on your part, hang in there with them because it is a journey.

Christmas is tiring here. With all of the above mentioned going on plus it being a lot more work is it any wonder? If Im being honest I almost didn’t decorate this year. I was sick after Thanksgiving which is my normal decorating time and once I felt better physically I was down in spirits and wanted to forget the whole ordeal. Couldn’t I just ignore it this year? I did force myself to get started and once I did I was more and more happy about doing it but it was a close one this year. Your missionary is just finishing up another year of ministry (or their first/partial year) and you can expect them to be tired in more way than one. Emotionally, physically, socially even spiritually. Pouring yourself out into ministry and being pulled and/or needed by people all the time is utterly exhausting at times. More grace, more patience, less offense. You reach out and send that email but no response. Trust me, I’m guilty. I got your email. I read it. It touched me that you remembered me/us. It filled my tank a little, thank you. Now, can I empty it some to write back? . . .oh shoot I forgot that and oh no, the baby needs changed . . .oh there’s another person at my door needing something from me and that little bit you put in my tank is now gone . .or perhaps, I literally cant even think of another line to say right now I’m so empty. Please forgive me if I’ve done this to you. Forgive your other missionaries too. We need those emails but literally might be so empty you never hear back from us about it. I’m sorry and I’m sure they are too. We still need you.

So if you have a missionary in your life that you support and appreciate take just a little time this busy Christmas season to reach out to them. They may be having a hard time right now and need encouragement. They may be lonely and need to be reminded that you haven’t forgotten them. They may be grieving and need you to listen to them. They may be confused and can’t answer your questions so be patient. They may not get back to you until Christmas is over if at all; don’t hold it against them. They need you. We need you. We cannot do this without you. You are our team of supporters. Think about that this season. We cant do our ministry and time here without our team that pours into us and supports us. So thank you. Thank you for everything you do for us and the other missionaries in your life. That is what it’s all about and it’s what Christmas is all about in the end; Christ and following Him. God Bless you all and Merry Christmas.

-The Petersens

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