By Emily Drayne
Have you ever wondered how Christmas is celebrated in other countries? Do they bake cookies and set them out for Santa? Do they hang stockings from mantles and have Christmas trees full of ornaments and lights?
Many Americans could benefit from learning the traditions of other countries. Incorporating an international flair into your end-of-year services is easy. Here are five ways to expose your church family to missions during “the most wonderful time of the year.”
1. Host an “International Christmas Week” at your church. December is not a normal time for a missions emphasis, but many missionaries are home from November through the New Year visiting family and meeting with donors and churches. Invite one or more of the missionaries you support to share at some of your services throughout December. Raise awareness within your church family that not every country celebrates Christmas the way we do in the United States. Ask your missionaries to come prepared to share fun facts about how they celebrate Christmas where they serve.
2. Involve the kids. It’s important for our children to become better aware of the world. I can’t wait to show my 6-month-old daughter that the world is bigger than the town in which we live. Assign each class or grade in your church a missionary and have the kids write letters of encouragement to them. Ask the kids to draw pictures, tell the missionaries what they want to be when they grow up, explain why they are excited for Christmas, describe their favorite tradition—you get the idea. Mail those letters to your missionaries in time for Christmas. It will mean a lot to them.
3. Invite international students into your churches and homes. Did you know that most international students will never set foot inside an American home during their time in the U.S.? The holidays are a perfect time to challenge your church to welcome such students to your church services and host them in their homes. Show the love of Christ by sharing Christmas dinner together. Have your international guest share what they do at Christmas in their family; consider adopting one of their traditions to make them feel more at home. Your hospitality will make an impact and create an open door to talk about the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
4. Take up a special missions offering. I know this idea might be unpopular, since many churches encourage end-of-year giving to meet their budgets. But think of the blessing you’d give a missionary with a year-end gift. Consider sending it to the missionary as a Christmas surprise. Sending such a gift shows your church family and visitors that world missions is a priority—and it says a lot about your church, too. Asking guests of your church for money can be a big deterrent, but taking up a special offering for folks in another country is a bit different. If your church can’t do a special offering, consider tithing a certain portion of an offering and sending it to a missionary in need. Who knows how God will use your sacrifice?
5. Encourage your church family to get creative with Christmas gifts. According to Forbes, Americans spent $1 trillion on Christmas in 2016. That’s an insane amount of money! Let’s harness that over-the-top enthusiasm for gift-giving this Christmas. Many organizations sell goods and provide opportunities to bless the people they serve via their websites. Through Kendi’s Cows (kendiscows.org), for example, you can buy an animal for a farmer or family in another country. A cow is a gift of sustainable living, for it can provide milk throughout its life, and ultimately, meat. KORE (www.korefoundation.org) helps people in certain countries become small-business owners by establishing them with egg-laying chickens. (For additional ideas, see Carla Williams’s article “10 Christmas Gift Ideas that Support Ministry and Mission.”) Challenge your church—small groups and Sunday school classes included—to get involved!
During this Christmas season, remember that your church has the potential to bless not only their families, but also families all over the world.
Emily Drayne lives in North Carolina and has served with the International Conference on Missions since 2011.