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Christmas and our Global Neighbour - Part Two

We contacted officers who are, or have previously served in international appointments. Read on to find out how this experience has shaped their engagement with our global neighbours.

Major Geoff Webb

What do you enjoy about Christmas in the country in which you have served? 

Although it has been some time since we were living there, Christmas in Pakistan still holds fond memories for us. One of the delightful Christmas traditions we enjoyed in our time in Pakistan involves a cake (for Jesus' birthday). The College staff families would gather in the Training Principal's quarters  late on Christmas Eve (the cadets had all gone to their home villages). After some carols, and a brief devotional from the Principal, midnight would come, and in the deep quiet of the night the youngest person present would then cut Jesus' birthday cake. A joyful Punjabi carol would be sung that celebrates "He has come". Christmas in Pakistan centred around the heart of Christmas as a Christian celebration.

What do you wish your home country knew about your context?

Some countries have almost nothing that represents Christmas, and therefore the celebration is distinctly Christian and not "commercialised". Even so, we missed things like hearing Christmas carols, and watching Carols by Candlelight. It’s also rather difficult to organise a more “traditional” Christmas dinner – the first time we tried to make a Christmas roast (with meat that is normally boiled as a curry), it resembled leather! For people serving in a country where Christmas is almost non-existent, thoughts of home can be especially poignant.

You have responded to the call to serve and love your global neighbour, what has the experience taught you?

Christmas and Easter are times when Christians in other countries can be especially vulnerable, and security is often stepped up in case of attack by extremists. Reflecting on such experiences has been shaping for my ministry in the sense of not taking for granted our freedom to share the gospel with others. As well, I am reminded of our obligation to share the wealth we take for granted with people in our own country as well as those overseas who experience poverty and need. Whether that is sending money overseas to specific people and projects, or choosing to buy from Just Gifts, Care, or similar, we can all do more to give support and assistance to people struggling around the world.   

How your time overseas has shaped your officership?

My officership has been significantly shaped by our time overseas - I have a greater sense of the Army's internationalism, and some of the challenges and opportunities that operate in very different contexts from our own. Sometimes, although I try not to show it, I become a little impatient when I hear people in Australia complain about comparatively trivial things, or appear a little too self-focused. The social injustices evident around the world are often not understood or even ignored by people; and sometimes the issues are much more complex than they appear to us in an affluent society.  In terms of the way I think and operate, I would say that I am Australian by birth but a citizen of the world by experience; and that makes all the difference.  

 

Lieutenant Andrew Lee

What do you enjoy about Christmas in the country in which you have served?

The Christian Christmas traditions in Bangladesh are similar to Australia except it is smaller, and less commercial as there aren’t too many shops selling Christmas goods. Even in countries in which Christians are considered a minority, we still we celebrate with great passion and loud singing acknowledging the birth of Christ. I also enjoy the food!

What do you wish your home country knew about your context?

A greater understanding of the context of poverty within Bangladesh, where unemployment and lack of fair wages drive people in poverty to desperate measures because there is little Government welfare and health safety nets. There is a great need for people and organisations like The Salvation Army to offer care and love to others.

You have responded to the call to serve and love your global neighbour, what has the experience taught you?

The experience has taught me that building walls of ignorance and distrust does not help society at all. When I was a kid in Perth, most of the kids in our street would go out and play together after school and weekends.  Parents would know each other and help each other out even though they all came from different ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. I think the same approach needs to be taken globally. Friendship is important for relationship building, and working together brings about a much safer neighbourhood.

What one thing from your home country would encourage or offer you support at this time?

Prayer.

 

Major Marion Weymouth

What do you enjoy about Christmas in the country in which you have served?

I had 4 periods of serving overseas - and reflect on 2 countries from this - the late 70s and early 80s in Zambia, and 2005-2008 in Hong Kong.

In Africa, Christmas involved lots of singing! This happened in lots of places - the villages, in a small chapel at the hospital, in the leprosy and children's ward and in the sounds from the boarding school nearby. Walking together with carol singers and stopping in different villages was a highlight; there was something really meaningful in being under the evening stars, with the bright moon rising. Was it similar when Jesus was born? Gifts between people were simple and appreciated - potatoes and beans from the home garden, nice tasting food or toothpaste bought back from a trip somewhere else far away, a homemade card from neighbours.

Hong Kong was something of a contrast - glitzy, colourful, bustling, but hard to find the sacred in the secular. Consumerism dominated the landscape. The Salvation Army was focused on special events for their social programmes and managed some amazing ministry to the marginalised , as they gathered in community with them in their places of worship and activity. The highlight was their continuous energy on behalf of others, including outdoor evangelism with brass instruments and song.

What did I enjoy? Simplicity, shelter from 'consumerism', sharing meals of international flavours with neighbours, Christmas gatherings of the whole community, hearing the message of Christmas and seeing it in a new way, as I saw what people did on behalf of others and was able to participate in their love and care.

What do you wish your home country knew about your context?

In Zambia I wish they could know how much people enjoy the pleasures of more simple celebrations. A small amount of money can make a big difference. If people could visualise the needs better, then I believe they would intentionally share more at this special time of giving. Even small amounts of giving make a world of difference to someone's life and future. For example, In Zambia, the cost of a few cups of coffee in Australia could allow a child the uniform he or she needs to commence a new school term.

You have responded to the call to serve and love your global neighbour, what has the experience taught you?

This experience has shown me the importance of being aware of needs, to engage where the people are in their situations, and to enter into their lives even at cost to ourselves. Such an experience is very rewarding and also makes us thankful for all the blessings we receive. It takes us outside of ourselves and expands our world. I learned much about sharing from the little that people have. If someone has only a little food left in his home and a visitor has need of food, it will be shared. Such sharing from the little that people have is the essence of a stronger community and personal enrichment. I also learned from the culture in Hong Kong how hard officers and others work in doing their best to diligently serve others, confronting a culture of consumerism to seek out the marginalised and bring joy through their caring. Though I may have gone out of a desire to serve and love others, I have been enriched as I received from their example. God becomes very near at such times.

What one thing from your home country would encourage or offer you support at this time?

I felt supported by receiving news from home, being connected with family and friends, even though separated by distance. The World Mission Fellowship encouraged with a gift of money for extra needs and it was good to see how far this went. Receiving a parcel, some money or cards from home was always a really nice surprise! Knowing that people prayed for me also helped. I think anything that added meaningfully to the scope of Christmas celebrations gave a sense that Christmas and its message was for all - in any part of the world - and as such united us in the important message of the birth of Christ.

 

Leanne Ruthven

What do you enjoy about Christmas in the country in which you are serving?

Christmas in Romania means snow and skiing instead of sun and cricket. I enjoy the season here because it is far less commercialised than in Australia - at least for now. While decorations start appearing in November, most preparation and gift-shopping is done just the week before Christmas. There is not the all-consuming busyness here that Christmas tends to involve at home.

While Romania celebrates Christmas at the same time as 'the West', it is a highly orthodox society, which means ornate churches and beautifully painted monasteries, with icons, candles and church bells. There is something special about seeing Christmas worshippers wrapped up against the cold, heading into church while the bells are ringing.

What do you wish your home country knew about your context?

That Romania is a fascinating place with historic castles, snow-capped mountains and the warm waters of the Black Sea. It is modern cities with large shopping malls and quaint villages with horse-drawn carts full of hay, logs or cabbages. That Romanian people are warm and wonderful. The country may have its problems - corruption, bureaucracy, people begging on the streets, human trafficking - but progress is being made, and we are seeing God at work here.

You have responded to the call to serve and your global neighbour, what has the experience taught you?

It has taught me that human nature is much the same wherever you go. The same sort of 'people problems' arise here as at home, but we also see the same love and generosity towards others. It has reminded me that God is not confined by my own limited worldview, and that spirituality can be experienced in the most unexpected places.

What one thing from your home country would encourage or offer you support at this time?

I would love Australia to be known as a welcoming, inclusive place that accepts everyone simply for who they are: human beings made in the image of God.
And one other thing that would encourage me: a jar of Vegemite! I'm just about out of it.

Leanne Ruthven is currently serving in Romania as the Regional Commander.

 

Melissa Templeman Twells

What do you enjoy about Christmas in the country in which you are serving?

Christmas is not traditionally celebrated in Japan, so in recent years, it is mostly the shops that decorate for Christmas. Most Japanese people think of Christmas as American, so they eat KFC and strawberry sponge cake for dessert. We of course, are happy to indulge in these traditions too.

 What do you wish your home country knew about your context?

Most Japanese people don’t know the true meaning of Christmas. Less than 1% of the population are Christian, so instead of celebrating Christmas, most Japanese people go to the Buddhist Temple or Shinto Shrine at New Year. They pray for good luck in the coming year. The Salvation Army does Christmas carolling and collecting for the whole of December. We organize Christmas parties for kids and families, hot meals are prepared and served to the homeless, and there is also a Christmas carol service at Tokyo Prison. 

You have responded to the call to serve and love your global neighbour, what has the experience taught you?

Even though we may look different on the outside, and speak different languages, on the inside, people all over the world are the same. We all want to be loved, to be recognized, and to have a place that we can call home. Mother Teresa said that Japan’s hunger was not a hunger for food, but for love. I want to show love to those who aren’t loved, and because I can’t do this on my own, I ask God to help me every day.

What one thing from your home country would encourage or offer you support at this time?

Thank you for your prayers, thank you for your letters and emails. And especially, thank you for your fair trade chocolate! Merry Christmas!

Melissa Templeman Twells is currently serving in Japan at The Salvation Army Koto Corps, Tokyo.