What It’s Like to Spend Christmas Alone

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

My earliest memories of Christmas were a mixture of joy and sadness. I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, where celebrating Christmas meant wearing bathing suits, eating barbecued shrimp and steak, spending the day around the backyard pool, and of course, the excitement of opening presents!

On the other hand, Christmas was also a time of the year that painfully exposed the brokenness of my family. Though the spirit of Christmas seemed present in the festively decorated shops and the wreath-bedecked streets, it somehow failed to permeate our cheerless home. At least my parents tried to tolerate each other, instead of resorting to their customary fighting.

l realized l was part of a family that couldn’t embrace the season of love and goodwill to turn our dismal situation around.

 

Family Feud

When l started university, every year l would volunteer to work a double shift on Christmas Day at the restaurant where l waitressed. That way I could avoid spending Christmas with my parents—who didn’t seem much bothered by the fact that I was avoiding them. They were occupied with their own marital problems.

After completing my university degree, l left home at 23 and moved to Cologne, Germany. My relationship with my parents worsened considerably over time, until communication between us completely broke down.

That left me alone in a foreign country, with no money, and no family to fall back on.

Instead of wallowing in despair, I dedicated the next 10 years to carving out a new life for myself in Germany without my family, which included creating new Christmas traditions.

 

Christmas For One

In Germany, I became a teacher and made new friends, the majority of them expatriates like myself. Every year at the beginning of the Christmas break, however, my friends traveled back to their home towns to spend the holidays with their families, and l was left alone.

Every year I told myself that l was used to being on my own, and I worked to make each approaching Christmas a memorable occasion for myself.

On my own, I embraced the traditions of a German Christmas: I visited the Christmas markets; l went sing-a-long caroling amidst a winter wonderland; I ate roast goose and baked apples. It was completely opposite to the Christmas traditions l grew up with in the southern hemisphere, yet l enjoyed discovering these aspects of German culture. While l hadn’t given my life to Christ at that point of my life, l would still go to Christmas services at the local church.

Though self-pity and loneliness insisted on making their presence known, l pushed those feelings deep down and doubled my efforts to absorb the Christmas spirit.

I listened to the mellow crooning’s of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” while decorating my pine Christmas tree, and almost managed to convince myself that l was happy being by myself for the holidays.

But then Christmas day arrived. The shops were closed and the city was quiet. And it hit me that once again l was spending Christmas alone.

I began to despair of ever knowing a family that wanted me—not only at Christmas, but every day of the year. Though l wasn’t a Christian at this time, l got on my knees and cried out to God in prayer for Him to give me a loving family, so that l could experience the happiness that others enjoyed at Christmas with their loved ones.

 

A New Family Through Jesus

God heard my pleading and my prayers. Within a couple of years after arriving in Germany, l gave my life to Him and found the family l was yearning for. I gained a heavenly Father, and l became His child (John 1:12-13). I would never be alone again.

Through the salvation and mercy of Jesus Christ, l laid the painful past of my childhood to rest and reached out to my parents a few years ago in order to try and mend our differences. We resumed communications for a while. Last year, however, my parents cut off all contact with me.

In spite of this disappointment, I still feel the love of a spiritual family. For although my parents rejected me, God took me in and adopted me as His own. I joined a church and found new brothers and sisters in Christ.

God has also blessed me with a new earthly family. He has provided me with a kind and compassionate husband, as well as very dear friends whom l love like the siblings l never had.

Together, we have made our own family memories. We have celebrated numerous Christmases and birthdays together. We have laughed during the high points of our lives and supported each other during the low points. I am truly grateful to God for bringing these beautiful people into my life.

This coming Christmas, my husband and l are hosting my best friends, who are visiting us from Berlin. This year has been particularly challenging for all of us due to health and other issues, and l look forward to taking this time to share with my friends the love and victory that Christ has given me.

I will also write to my parents and wish them a Merry Christmas. So far, they haven’t responded to my attempts at communication, but l will continue to pray for them and believe that we can reconcile in the future. Until then, l entrust them to God’s hands.

If you are entering this holiday season without the comfort of your loved ones, know that God is with you. Your story isn’t finished yet. Hold on to that, and hold on to God.

And in the mean time, my thoughts and prayers are with you this Christmas.

How I Found A Community While Going to College Abroad

Written By Yang Ming, Singapore

Before I set off to Swansea, Wales to further my studies, I had researched a number of churches to attend. While I knew about Singapore communities in popular destinations like Sydney or London, I didn’t know of any Singaporean Christians in Swansea. I asked around for recommendations, but didn’t receive any. So my search continued on Google.

I was anxious to find a church. I knew friends who had found God through church communities when they were studying overseas. I also had Christian friends who experienced God in a supernatural way and whose spiritual life grew while abroad. Both groups shared compelling personal testimonies, and I always felt encouraged by their faith-charged stories and was eager to have the same experience. Although I made a list of churches I found online, I was still fearful that I might not find a suitable church to settle in.

But as I was spending time with God one day, I was reassured by a verse in Joshua 1:9, where God tells Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” If God was with Joshua when he entered a foreign land, surely God would be with me as well.

My first month in school was a challenging one. I had to acquaint myself with my new flatmates and classmates. I had to learn a new culture, and adjust to a different way of living, food, transport, and even communication. On top of that, I had to re-adjust to student life after having worked for five years. It was awkward not even knowing the agenda for my class!

But just as God promised, He was with me as I entered this new country. A chance encounter led me to meet Molly, who together with her husband Charles, are missionaries from Singapore serving the local community in Swansea, Wales. Molly set up the English Corner at my campus some years ago as a place where international students can come together to learn English and the local culture from native students.

Molly followed up with me to make sure that I was settling well. She also invited me to her church. When I finally had all the administrative work settled, I decided to pay a visit to Molly’s church.

I casually invited two of my flatmates—one from Italy and the other from Brazil—to the Sunday service as well, and surprisingly, they agreed to come. Later I learned that both had attended churches in their respective homes and were also looking for a church to settle in.

Molly was very welcoming to us when we turned up for service. Her church was Presbyterian, whereas back home, I worshipped in a Charismatic church. We sang different songs during worship and the services were conducted differently. Despite these differences, I felt at peace during the service. The guest speaker’s message that day spoke to me. It made me realize that what mattered wasn’t so much the worship style or how the service was conducted, but that the church was focused on God’s Word and His heart for the people.

After service, everyone in the congregation was invited to stay for a scrumptious homecooked lunch, courtesy of Molly and her husband Charles.

As time went by, Molly invited me and other international students to her place for Bible study. Since I was a newcomer, everyone tried their best to make me feel welcome in the group. Molly always cooked a hearty dinner before the Bible study, and I was moved to see students from all over the world coming together to have a meal.

Knowing we were all students, Molly always made sure there would be an abundance of food for us to pack home afterwards. Her love for the students reminded me of the verse in Romans 12:13, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Recently, I missed a Bible study session because of an important assignment I was working on. But the group remembered me and gave me a packet of homecooked food, just to make sure that I was eating well. It really gave me a sense of belonging and love.

As I made an effort to share my own life and ask about their lives, I got to know these people from different parts of the world better. They also helped me during moments when I struggled with the way things worked here. My friends helped me understand some of the idiosyncrasies of the local culture, what the four seasons were like, and also how to combat the wet and cold weather in Wales.

During the Bible study, facilitators who led each session reminded us of the importance of God’s Word. Even as Christians, it is sometimes easier to get caught up with so many things—assignments, readings, spending time with friends—that we neglect God’s word. But every time I read the Bible in depth after a long day of studying and working on assignments, I would feel so refreshed.

The time spent studying God’s Word with these people has challenged me in my thinking and in the way I understand the Bible. As we studied God’s Word together, we learned to sharpen each other (Proverbs 27:17).

This is one of the things that I am thankful for—a community where we can grow and serve the Lord together. It has helped me see what an important role church leaders and fellow Christians can play in helping newcomers and foreign students settle into a new environment by lending a listening ear, meeting their needs, and making them feel welcome in the community.

Apart from reaching out to foreigners who are fellow Christians, churches that are strategically located near colleges also have the opportunity to treat non-believers or people of other faiths well. Living in a different country is always a frightening experience. By inviting newcomers over for a meal and showing them around, we can help them settle in well. Offer community, and people will feel welcomed and loved.

This is something Molly and her family have done throughout their years living in Wales—loving people and making them feel welcomed and loved despite differences in faith and nationality. Their example has inspired me to initiate conversations over coffee and reach out to other international students who are living on campus.

As I continue my studies abroad, I increasingly see the importance of having a church community. When I go through difficult times, such as when I’m struggling with my studies, I have support from God’s family. Being part of a church community also helps us watch out for one another in time of troubles, and more importantly, pray together as a family.

One of the wonderful things about the Christian faith is that no matter we go, we are never completely alone—but are all connected to a big Christian family worldwide. My Italian flatmate now attends church regularly with me, and remarked that she felt at home in church. As Psalm 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

Through this journey, God has opened my mind and showed me what He’s doing in other nations. He has also given me a heart to pray for this nation. I hope that in the coming days, I will be able to share my testimony to the congregation during service, help to serve lunch after service, or perhaps, lead a session during the Bible study.

6 Questions to Consider If You’re Called to Full-Time Ministry

After graduating from Bible college and seminary, my husband Andrew and I stayed in touch with many of our friends—people with whom we dreamed of and prepared for ministry.

Within a matter of years, however, many of our friends had left ministry indefinitely. These are not all sad stories—some have felt a call by God to be elsewhere, but most cases are filled with immense pain, loneliness, anger, and sometimes even emotional and spiritual trauma.

We have been left asking: Why are so many pastors and leaders in the church leaving their ministries—men and women who once “knew” they were called to vocational ministry? What is the difference between these brothers and sisters and a sustained long-term ministry?

Andrew and I have talked about this a lot, especially now that he has been a lead pastor for several years. Our discussions have led us to some important questions that we believe will help Christians better discern whether or not they are called to full-time ministry.

If you are thinking about entering vocational ministry, Andrew and I pray that the following six considerations can help you think through your excitement with biblical wisdom. And for those currently in ministry, we hope that they will greatly encourage you and assist you as you press on faithfully.

 

1. Am I called?

My dad has been a pastor since I was young. He always says that ministry is the hardest thing that someone can ever do but that it is completely worth it. Though we have been in ministry for only a few years, Andrew and I have already found this to be true.

Ministry—whether full-time or part-time—is often so difficult that without a clear confirmation from the Holy Spirit, there is no way we will stay in the trenches when war comes. We will  begin to question if we heard the Lord correctly, if our mentors were wrong, or if there is something else we could be doing with our skills and education.

So, how can we know whether we are called to full-time ministry?

Here are two ways that helped re-affirmed our calling, and we hope you find them similarly fruitful:

  • We prayed and fasted to seek confirmation from God. Fasting is often used in Scripture to show a sincere desire to know God’s will or receive His deliverance (Joel 2:12, Ezra 8:21-23, Psalm 35:13). This desire is greater than whatever we might give up sacrificially (it was usually food in Scripture). As we fasted, God unified Andrew and my desires to serve Him full-time, and increased our joy in moving in that direction! What an affirmation this was.
  • People we respect in leadership and ministry affirmed our gifts. We kept in mind (and still do) that just because we want to do something doesn’t mean we are good or effective at it. We all need to sincerely ask ourselves, do people we respect agree with us regarding our calling and gifts? If they do not, we should slow down and re-evaluate.

 

2. Am I prepared to be judged more strictly?

James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly”.

Whether we are teaching passively—holding a leadership role as others watch our actions—or actively through preaching, teaching, or writing, James 3:1 should cause all of us to regularly pause and reflect on our hearts, asking:

  • Am I actively living a life of repentance before the Lord?
  • Am I actively seeking to live in a way that is above reproach?
  • Do I eagerly accept honest feedback from mentors even if it is uncomfortable?

If we answer “no” to any of these questions, we should think again before placing ourselves into ministry leadership. We all sin (1 John 1:8), but the call of being judged more strictly requires any leader to be soberly aware of the danger of complacency and be actively putting to death sin in their life (Romans 8:13).

 

3. Do I desire to please God and not people?

Galatians 1:10 says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

In ministry, we often have to make decisions that may not please everyone. Because of this, we must make sure that our desire to please God outweighs the discomforts of displeasing men.

My husband was once asked to marry a couple where one was a Christian but the other was not. We felt that this was something we could not do in clear conscience before the Lord. The bride’s parents were extremely angry with us and uninvited us to the wedding. Several members of the elder board made their disapproval blatantly known to us as well.

When people attack us or dislike something in our ministry, they are often challenging not only our method or ability, but that which we hold most dear—our theology, our training, and our calling. No matter how lonely it becomes, we must be willing to be uncomfortable before man so that we can be blameless before God.


4. Have I been properly trained?

Andrew, as well as many other teachers I have known, have shared with me the weight they feel each week as they preach or teach—realizing that the words they speak are representing the very words of God. This weight should never go away.

Because teachers are called to accountability, those of us who lead—specifically those of us who teach—should pursue training so that we can understand and handle Scripture correctly.  The words of 2 Timothy 2:15 need to ring loudly in our ears: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker. . . who correctly handles the word of truth” (emphasis added).

In order to correctly handle Scripture, we should have at least some form of training in it, and be continually learning and growing through reading solid books, listening to sermons, attending conferences—relying not on our own understanding within a vacuum, but on the training and knowledge of those who have devoted their lives to understanding the Word.

 

5. Do I have a mentor?

When Andrew and I went through a very difficult season of ministry, a couple of veteran pastors were our lifelines.

During this time, my husband kept in close contact with these respected men—they had enough distance from our situation to think clearly and point us both to Scripture and to their decades of experience. They kindly corrected us when we needed to change something, and were fellow soldiers cheering us on to faithfulness in this difficult time. Without these men, it is very possible we would not have remained in ministry long term because of the pain we endured that season.

Mentoring is vital to a successful ministry. In order to withstand the highs and lows well, we must seek the wisdom and support of those who have gone before us. Find veteran pastors or pastor’s wives, or those who have done what you desire to do long-term (e.g., children’s ministry or eldership)—people who are able to tell you when you are wrong, and who also have the clarity to tell you when you need to hold firm.

 

6. Is my family or spouse 100% on board?

Being involved in the church—even if we have an unbelieving spouse—is the call of all believers. However, if you are married and are entering vocational ministry, this must be a call shared by your spouse. We may not necessarily both be vocationally involved in the work, but because of one spouse’s position, the other spouse will naturally be looked to as a leader, as an example, and as a source of wisdom.

Without the support of our spouse and family cheering us on, surviving the hardships above would be nearly impossible, and the loneliness suffocating. The prayers, encouragements, and championing of our families are lifelines in ministry.

This is why we must be willing to prioritize time nurturing these relationships. Because Andrew has chosen to block out time to intentionally build his relationship with our family, we are readily excited to support him when he’s able to do ministry because we’ve been invested into. Doing ministry as a family can be such a tremendous joy!

 

With this one life we have been given, may we all be found faithful in that which God has called us. If there is anything else you would like to do in life, anything else you may be gifted in, any other calling that excites you, do it well and do it for the glory of God!

However, if you truly feel called to full-time ministry, not only will the Holy Spirit walk with you each step of the way, but you are in for an exciting, worthwhile and eternally impactful life! The relationships we can build walking side by side with brothers and sisters in Christ, loving on others and battling against evil will truly be bonds that are unparalleled to any other relationship we have.

Ministry is precious and being called to it is a unique gift. My husband and I have no regrets about giving our lives to this calling and cannot imagine doing anything else with the years we have been given.

When I Struggled to Fit into My New Church

Written By Chanel Georgopoulos, South Africa

I looked around at the unfamiliar faces in the congregation, and then back to the front of the church, where the pastor had been preaching for 25 minutes already. I had grown up in a church where a sermon was called a homily, and it was 15 minutes at most.

There were other differences as well. Here I have been emotionally moved in ways I never experienced at my old church. There were tears during worship, and warmth filled my chest as I watched the members interact with each other.

But something still nagged at me. Though I have been coming to this new church with my boyfriend for four months already, I still felt like a fish out of water.

Before this, I had been at the same church for my entire life. And I would probably have stayed there for the rest of it as well. But then I met and fell in love with someone from a different church.

We tried out each other’s churches, and I decided that moving was probably good for me. For the past eight years, I had been sitting in the same choir seat and moving in the same little circle of fellow members at church. Perhaps it was time for me to be off to new pastures.

There was just one problem: I felt like the new kid on the block. Every Sunday, I huddled at my boyfriend’s side for protection from the overwhelming number of friendly faces.

Some people encouraged me to get involved by serving. My first thought was the music ministry, where I had been involved in my old church. But the one here was a lot different. And if I had to admit it, my voice is simply not made for solos. With that option off the list, I was faced with tea duty (and dishes) or powerpoint (not my strongest suit)—neither of which I was particularly keen to try, if I’m honest.

I knew from experience that being involved changes how you feel about coming to church every Sunday, so it was something I wanted to do. I just didn’t know how to get started. I knew the Lord didn’t merely want me sitting in the pew every Sunday in my introverted little bubble. I had to get out of my shell.

I’m still trying to figure out what I can do. But I started attending a small group with my boyfriend—bless his heart, extrovert that he is—and found that the youth at this church are very welcoming. Since joining the small group, I have quickly started feeling more at ease and more a part of the church body.

At my old church, I didn’t really socialize with other youths outside of choir practice. But here there was an after-service tea which provided a great opportunity for hanging out. And it was nice to be invited to a ladies’ breakfast or a beach day, or have someone ask you at Thursday group how the rest of your week has been.

If you’ve just moved to a new church, or are having trouble fitting into your church, perhaps you could also try serving in a ministry or joining a small group. Here are some other quick ideas on figuring out where you need to be and feeling more at home:

  • Say hi to the person sitting next to you (how often do we actually do this?)
  • Ask someone who knows you well what they think you would be good at
  • Find out who is in charge of which ministry, and talk to them about serving opportunities that are available
  • Pray about it (this may seem obvious, but often we use this as a last resort)
  • Stay for after-service coffee and tea instead of dashing out the door

I still have the number of the ministries leader sitting unused in my phone, so perhaps I should take my own advice. But for now, the after-service tea has been a great way to get chatting with people I find myself in a small group with. It was actually how we found out about the group in the first place—the power of oat cookie-induced conversation!

The church body is a safe space, and if we feel that the new church we’ve joined is the right place, then we owe it to ourselves to step out boldly (or timidly, whatever works for you) and listen to the Lord’s nudging.

Paul says that each member of the body has a role to play, whether it be prophesy, service, teaching, encouraging, or even showing mercy (Romans 12:3-8). You may need to try a few things out before settling on something you like, but you might find yourself doing something you never thought you would or were capable of doing. Not everyone is meant to stand on stage and sing, but working in the background doesn’t make what we do any less valuable, and perhaps even the simple conversations we have with people can be impactful. What’s important is that we keep our hearts open to the leading of the Spirit, and find ways to engage with and build up the church we’re planted at.

Though I am settling in, it still feels like something of a transition. But maybe I’ll try out serving tea and oat cookies, or maybe there’s a meaningful conversation to be had that will point me in the way I should go. What I know for sure is that my small group has been a blessing, and changing churches has allowed God to move in deeper parts of my heart. For this, I am grateful.