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Letters, Calls, Peanut Butter, and Ruined Candy: RMM Workers Recall Their Favorite Christmas Gifts Abroad

– From the December 2016 Beacon

The holidays can be a difficult time for cross-cultural workers. Living far away from family and home communities and missing out on familiar celebrations and traditions often make workers feel lonely and disconnected. Long-term workers go through this cycle every year, and even short-term workers often deal with homesickness and sadness as they spend Christmas apart from their families for the first time.

To get a taste of what it’s like to spend the holidays far from home and the difference a gift or letter can make, we asked a few of our past and present workers to describe the best gift they received while working abroad. We’ve collected their responses below.

When I was little, I remember receiving a Christmas box from the kids at church. There were handmade cards and photo albums of the kids in Sunday School. I was thrilled with the Zhu Zhu pet they sent me! I loved it! I also remember my Grandma sending chewy peppermint Christmas candy with tiny trees on them.

– Claire, age 12, Thailand

My favorite gift was a visit from my parents! We had our traditional Chinese food for Christmas Eve at the top of the tallest building in Bangkok (Baiyoke tower). It was so special to have them here to celebrate and to keep old traditions alive in a new place!

– Candice, Thailand

My first year in Thailand, my family sent me an advent calendar in the form of small boxes with gifts. I would open one each day leading up to Christmas. It was such a wonderful way to ease the loneliness of my first Christmas away from family.

– Anna, Thailand

Sometimes the most inspiring thing was just a regular letter and a family photo; after many years we started to feel so out of touch with people, their growing children, grandchildren, etc. I often read those updates a few times. Also, having someone actually call or Skype was a real treat. Our Christmas activities were usually very limited, so we felt blessed by the gift of the time and effort friends or family took to be in touch.

– Paula, Middle East

I can't think of a gift received from back home for Christmas,
but if I were to imagine something I'd want, it would probably be a phone call (we have a U.S. number!) or a live Skype or FaceTime chat.

– Pablo, Spain

I think the best gifts I received in Thailand were packages with holiday decorations and special foods for Thanksgiving and Easter. Those Christian/American holidays aren’t celebrated at all, and it’s difficult to find anything that reminds one of traditional celebrations at home. Those packages gave me a tangible connection to traditions, home, and family that are very special to me.

– Colleen, Thailand

Last Christmas my family was able to come to Costa Rica to spend Christmas and New Year's together. The time that we were able to spend together in those days is the best gift I've received while on the field.

– Liz, Costa Rica

The gifts that I remember most from Spain are peanut butter, Starbucks Via coffee, and encouragement notes from my youth group back home accompanied by lots of candy and treats. Of all of those, the Starbucks Via was possibly the best...maybe tied with peanut butter. We had good coffee in Spain, but it was espresso and just very different. It was good to have something quick, easy, delicious, and a reminder of coffee from home. It might have helped that it came from my future wife ;)

– Brian, REACH team Spain, 2009

I would definitely say peanut butter. My church also wrote little encouragement notes to open on days I missed home. They sent the notes in an Altoids mint box, so it didn’t take much room, and it was super fun for me to pull out and read every once in a while.

– Courtney, REACH team Madagascar 2008, South Asia 2010

One of the most meaningful gifts that we received had nothing to do with the content of the package. A good friend of ours sent us a package unexpectedly. We weren't planning to get anything, and then all of a sudden a slip of paper showed up at our door, saying that I should come down to the post office. When I got there, I was handed a cardboard box that was falling apart. A friend from our church back home had bought a six-pack of Mountain Dew and a big bag of M&M's and sent them to us. In transit, three of the cans of Mountain Dew had burst, saturating everything else in the box. The bag of M&M's had also burst open and the M&M’s were disintegrating due to the spilled soda. There wasn't much left to salvage. In fact, very little on the box was even legible except for the large amount of postage that had been paid for the box to be sent. I don't remember the exact amount, but I remember being shocked that someone we knew would care about us enough to spend that kind of money to send us something as trivial as candy. We felt loved, and all it took was the unexpected gesture of a friend who cared enough about us to send us a reminder of their thoughts and prayers for us. For us, it wasn't the content of packages that was important. Packages were a reminder that we had not been forgotten.

– Matt, Middle East

There’s nothing quite like getting a package in the mail. In addition to whatever is inside, the package bears the unspoken messages: “We were thinking about you, and we care about you enough to pack this box and send it to you.” And that’s perhaps the most important part. I still remember one of the first packages Dawn and I got in Guayaquil. I waited in line at the post office and then waited in line on the sidewalk to get the requisite customs form typed. Then I waited in line at the post office again. When I finally retrieved the box of Christmas cookies, we discovered that a rodent had chewed through the box and partially devoured the cookies. But all the implied messages that came with the box were completely intact! We were grateful, and we still remember who sent it!

– Jon, Ecuador/North Africa

Letters, calls and gifts are a powerful way to encourage workers, and remind them that they are not alone. We encourage you to support the work of the kingdom this holiday season by sending a letter or package to someone serving Jesus overseas.

For contact information for RMM workers call 614-258-4780 or email info@rmmoffice.org.