It isn’t surprising that for most Missionaries their greatest challenge is completing the first term of service on the mission field. The first year in particular is a struggle since they will face things such as spiritual challenges from Satan, culture shock, loss of friends or family, and a lack of ministry opportunities. These and other issues can easily discourage a new missionary and in extreme cases cause them to return home.
For those who are faithful in the first twelve months however there is a turning point when you become comfortable on the foreign field. For me that was my first Australian Thanksgiving. Of course Aussies themselves don’t celebrate thanksgiving at all, but the Lord used that first really big holiday (other than my birthday) to prove it was possible to survive the challenges and flourish. Thanksgiving 2007 was special for me in particular because it was the first time Australia began to feel like home.
Believe it or not there are actually some advantages to living in Australia on Thanksgiving day! For instance you don’t have to wait until 12:00 in the afternoon for NFL football because Melbourne is fourteen hours ahead of the US (the only reason I actually have cable is the American sports on ESPN). Somehow being able to drink a cup of coffee at 6:00 am and watch the fourth quarter of the Detroit Lions game made me feel like I was sitting down on the couch with my dad and brother after stuffing ourselves full of turkey 🙂
About 9:00 that morning is the traditional Thanksgiving Day Skype chat which in later years became known as the “Silly Uncle John Entertainment Hour” for my niece Chloe. It’s true that Skype isn’t as good as having the people in the room with you (they can’t exactly pass the mashed potatoes) but being able to see and interact with my family on such an important day made me feel a lot less isolated. Later Skype chats became a tradition twice every week, and in many ways kept me from getting homesick.
For Lunch instead of Turkey I decided to prepare a T-Bone Steak with french fries, turkish bread, and Tim Tams (the most amazing cookie in the world) for desert. Of course for the special occasion I had to use my beautiful palm tree dish setting along with the matching palm tree placemat, and even lit a candle for ambiance (whatever that means). Unfortunately it wasn’t my Grandmothers famous stuffing, but there was still an awful lot to be thankful for when I bowed my head to pray
The other awesome thing about that Thanksgiving was everyone from the Church wanted me to come over for dinner. Seriously I probably got requests from five different families who wanted me to come! Part of this was the fact that they knew my first Thanksgiving away from home would be hard, but it was still awesome to see how many friends I had made in such a short time who deeply cared about me. It was also interesting that almost all the left-overs went home with me…not that I’m complaining, but I can actually cook!
There are definitely bad days experienced as Missionaries, but I can tell you from experience that if your faithful in those challenges, God will bring you to a place of peace and blessing.