Missionary Care in the Christmas Season
Missionary care should always be a priority. The Christmas season represents unique needs and opportunities for missionary care. So, although it's a little late, it's timely to think about effective missionary care in this special season.
The first key is to plan early. Simple logistics and group dynamics within your church present obstacles of time, transit, and transport to the delivery of care to your missionaries on the field. I've known several churches that had an old-fashioned idea of "Christmas in October." They encouraged the whole congregation to give small gifts and special funds in the month of October which then they would try to deliver to missionaries on the field in time for Christmas. When we were on the field we routinely got Christmas presents which had been sent in early December but only arrived in our hands some months later. So we would have Christmas in February sometimes.
The second key is to communicate with your missionaries. This seems pretty obvious, but it is rare to communicate well with field missionaries about their special needs, concerns, and circumstances around the Christmas season. It's a lot more complicated than asking them to share their Amazon wish list. The logistics of sending packages, including transit times and cost and size of packages, may be prohibitive. Not only that but in certain countries and locations it would not be advisable at all to send a box of Christmas gifts for a variety of reasons. Communicating with your missionaries will help clarify what is possible and doable. Of course, if you have someone visiting them from your church anytime within a couple of months of Christmas, you would be able to hand-deliver special gifts brought along with the luggage. Just ask them what they would like or need most! Providing special funds for them to purchase specific local items is always a valid option. You may need to find out from their mission sending agency the best way to remit personal funds for Christmas use differently than you would for regular support funds.
The third key is to be sensitive.
Many missionaries work in an area where the dominant population or culture is resistant to Christianity if not downright adversarial. Blatant references to Christmas, the Christ child, and the Incarnation may be offensive to people around them. You must not jeopardize their relationships and channels of ministry by your lack of care.
Appropriate sensitivity extends to the emotional needs of the specific family to whom you're providing special Christmas care. Children of all ages are affected in different ways by living overseas. They love a long way away from relatives and fellow countrymen and your own local church family during the Christmas season. What about their college-aged children who are away from home and cannot get back to the field to be with their family for Christmas? Some missionary families, for whatever reasons whether personal or strategic, observe the Christmas season in their host country in very different ways than we (and they) do at home. They may not be free to decorate for Christmas or display a big mound of gifts. On the other hand, it is an amazingly opportune time to share their relationship with Jesus Christ and his uniqueness as the perfect God-man-Savior. You may have to get beneath the surface a little bit with your missionary family in order to determine the scope and appropriateness of your wonderful desire to serve them in a special way at Christmas time.
The fourth key is to be creative. The best gifts are not always physical things. The best gift may be a gesture of kindness, thoughtfulness, something made for them (whether by your church family or by a source local to them). Experience related events or opportunities can be a great blessing and a wonderful memory for a family to build on, e.g. - funds for a quick retreat or holiday away from their usual place of service; membership in an annual museum or a park pass for the family; a surprise visit from one or the other of the missionary couple's parents or other special family member paid for/arranged by the church; or, an Internet-based media subscription for the year (if it is accessible in their country) that would be a joy to the whole family.