As Christmas day gets nearer (less than a week!) I can’t help but remember my first Christmas in Australia. Ask almost any Missionary when they struggled the most during their first year on the field and they will say the Christmas holidays or Thanksgiving. That first Christmas was hard because I was separated from family and friends, but also it didn’t feel like Christmas.
In Melbourne, Australia our summer begins around October or November which means it will be about 90 degrees Fahrenheit on Christmas day (about 35 degrees celsius). This is fun since you are able to enjoy summer activities like swimming or going to the beach, but for someone used to cold weather and snow during December this kind of weather makes it hard to actually enjoy the holidays. During my first Christmas in Australia while sitting in a coffee shop they were playing walking in a winter wonderland while it was about 95 degrees outside which in my opinion is just wrong!
Eventually these special occasions like Christmas will lead you to become incredibly homesick, like I was in 2007. At first this can come as a shock because we somehow think that Missionaries aren’t supposed to get homesick or depressed but the truth is they do. The important thing is to expect these attacks of homesickness and prepare yourself for them so when they come, the pain won’t be as strong. As the special day approaches I wanted to share some things that helped me during my first Christmas and hope can encourage others who are apart from their families this holiday season.
1. Skype Chat: I am able to see my parents on a webcam and talk with them while opening the Christmas box they send to Australia every year. This isn’t as good as being there but being able to see their faces while discovering the presents they sent is always a huge help. Skype is free but you would need to make sure to purchase a good quality webcam and have a strong internet signal.
2. Get a Pet: About a month after moving into my first house I rescued Aussie a cat from the local animal shelter who brought a great deal of companionship in the beginning years. While Aussie was a great pet I would encourage anyone dealing with homesickness to get a dog since they are better companions…my dog Yoda (didn’t name him that somebody else did) is a massive help on those lonely nights.
3. Connect With a Community: There is a group of young adults at our Church who called themselves the “core four” and got together about once a week to play board games, watch movies, and hang out. A few weeks after returning the field in 2010 I was invited to one of their games nights and immediately became part of the group (we are now the fantastic five). It’s not always easy getting to know people but having a group of close friends is absolutely vital to overcoming homesickness
4. Get Cable: For me just being able to lay down on the couch and watch Sportscenter on Australian cable made me feel like I was home again. American sports is a big part of our culture and being able to continue watch those games can help you forget the loneliness for a few hours.
5. Talk About It: Leading up to my first Thanksgiving and Christmas four families called and asked if I wanted to come have lunch with them because they understood how hard it would be to be on my own during the holidays. It’s tempting to hide those feelings of homesickness because it reveals weakness, but we forget that our true friends already know we are struggling and genuinely want to help. I found talking with other Missionaries who knew exactly what I was feeling and shared stories how they overcame those emotions particularly helpful
6. Pray: One of the things I love about Melbourne is almost every house is surrounded by a fence in the backyard which allowed me to walk through mine talking to God without anyone thinking I was crazy. Many a conversation took place with the Lord when my heart was burdened with discouragement, and although He didn’t always answer in the way I wanted, those prayers did draw me closer to my Saviour.
There are many other things that can help with homesickness but let me close by simply saying you aren’t alone. My fear in the first Australian Christmas was thinking I was the only one who ever struggled with these emotions but conversations with other Missionaries proved that definitely wasn’t true. Sadly feelings such as loneliness and homesickness or part of our lives, but thankfully we don’t have to bear them alone.