Holidays far from Home
We celebrated Thanksgiving last week. It’s our 15th Thanksgiving as cross-cultural workers. While Thanksgiving is a decidedly American holiday, we continue to celebrate it wherever we are. It is part of our customs and traditions, something that carries memories for us and transmits part of our culture to our daughter and to those around us.
This year, we held a Thanksgiving meal at La Mesa Turquesa. We fixed our traditional foods: Billy made a turkey, I made cornbread dressing and sweet potato casserole, our teammates made green bean casserole and pie. Then we invited neighbors and friends and all the people who come to La Mesa to bring a dish that is typical in their family and share at the Thanksgiving table.
After we all ate and laughed and talked around the big turquoise table in our center, I shared that it is customary at Thanksgiving to spend some time giving thanks around the table for the past year - what are you grateful for in your life this year?
We each took our turn, sharing the blessings from the past year and what we are thankful for. Health, family, food on the table, jobs, and more were discussed. One of our volunteers who just started helping teach Spanish lessons at La Mesa in the past few months said that she was so thankful that she had this “job” at La Mesa. She said it makes her feel valued and like she has something to contribute. (I almost started crying at this point.) She said that she loves coming and helping the students—the immigrants and refugees and asylum seekers who come to learn language and culture and find community in our center. Her husband said he has become her assistant at home, helping her prepare language lessons and materials and taking care of things at the house while she works on her plans for the classes. She prided herself in having lessons planned out three weeks in advance. She was beaming! I love this because I have known this woman for 8 years now and I have never seen her have so much enthusiasm and excitement about something. It is obvious that she has found purpose in her volunteer work at La Mesa.
As we continued around the table with more thanks for families and health and provision, we came to one of our refugee students. *Asha talked about being thankful for the opportunity to study and go to school. She talked about having a place to live. And then she talked about being thankful for the team at La Mesa and all that they have done for her. Especially for her birthday.
A month ago, *Asha and her twin sister came to language class like they do every day. During the regular greetings and warm-up, it came out that it was their 17th birthday. The class got very excited and began singing and congratulating them, but the girls immediately became very sad and broke down crying. They live in a house for unaccompanied minors who are in the refugee system. Life with other 13-17 year old refugee children in one house with a Spanish guardian is difficult, at best. That morning, the twins had blown up some balloons for themselves to celebrate their birthday. But, some of the other teens made fun of them and popped the balloons and said hurtful things. So here they were, far from home, no family but each other, no one to celebrate with, and crying their eyes out on their birthday.
Our teammate, Kat, sprung in to action and ran to the bakery. She quickly bought cupcakes and ran back to the center to throw an impromptu birthday party. Everyone in class hugged the girls and said encouraging words and blessed their day. That night, one of the students went home and made handmade earrings for both of them and brought the gifts to the girls the following day. This is what our little community center is doing! We are becoming family to people who have none. We are building caring community for people who have lost everything. We are living out what it means to “love your neighbor”. We’re trying to be a light in the darkness.
Holidays are never easy when you are far from home. Far from loved ones, far from traditional foods and customs and family happenings. Over the years, it hasn’t gotten easier for us to be far away during the holidays. And for our newest neighbors who find themselves far from home this year for various reasons… war, famine, poverty, political asylum, etc… it is even more difficult to find anything to be thankful for or to celebrate.
As neighbors and friends, that’s where we can step in and bridge the gap. That’s where we can come alongside and lift up our new friends. The holidays are hard. Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays and the new year… those all carry customs and traditions and family connections that make it a really rough season for those who are far from home. It can be a dark time.
As you reflect on your own family traditions and celebrations and your own gratitude about his year, please remember those who are far from anything familiar and lift up prayers for them. Then go a step further and reach out to them - invite them over or take them a meal, share a cup of coffee or bake an extra pie or pumpkin bread or another dozen cookies to take to them. How can you be a light in the darkness? How can you “love your neighbor” - your immigrant neighbor, your refugee neighbor, the lonely neighbor, the neighbor who has lost everything this year?
We are thankful for you and for your support of the work we do for refugees and immigrants and asylum seekers. Because of you, Maricarmen has found renewed purpose and calling and feels valued as a volunteer teacher. Because of you, *Asha and *Bhama were not alone for their 17th birthday. Because of you, Billy is able to serve on the leadership team for the Refugee Highway Partnership - a Christian organization that empowers cross-cultural workers and ministries to give help and hope to refugees in Europe. Because of you, global ministry leaders and humanitarian workers are being specially trained and cared for so they can care for others and extend the love of Christ to their new neighbors.
Thank you for loving your neighbors well… at home AND all around the globe!
In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a soccer mom, a horsewoman, and the neighborhood hospitality queen. I did "Joanna Gaines farmhouse style" before Chip and JoJo were even a thing - we restored an 1884 Victorian farmhouse in small town Texas and did shiplap walls until I thought I'd go crazy. I taught at NASA, scuba dived with astronauts in training, and studied animals at Sea World for educational purposes. I've tried just about everything, because I have an insatiable need to know if I can do it! Never underestimate a Texas girl in cowboy boots!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers via teaching and training and care, and helping displaced people to navigate their new reality in Europe.
I'm passionate about fostering personal growth, growth in community, and growth in The Kingdom. Walking alongside others and helping them to use their unique design, their gifts and strengths and maximize their abilities to fulfill their God-given purpose - that's what makes my heart sing!