I love serving on the mission field. I love holidays. But sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the two. As long as I’ve lived in Chile (thirty-six years), I can’t get used to celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the summer. Granted, it’s only the low to middle 90s in our town, but still . . . that’s warm enough to curdle eggnog!
One of my initial culture shocks hit me in 1979, our first Christmas in Quilpué. Regardless of the elevated cost, we discovered that most everyone set up artificial Christmas trees. But we couldn’t afford one even if we wanted to. Which we didn’t. So, we determined to buck the culture and find a fresh tree, just like we always did back home in Napa, California.
Our task proved so daunting, I feared we would need to hire a private investigator. Anyone we asked ducked their heads and mumbled while walking away. One day I saw a couple of guys standing on a street corner, holding up some scraggly pines. My heart leaped. Finally. Peering from side to side, as if ready to bolt at any moment, they looked kind of questionable (the guys and the trees). Just as I was about to ask them the price, a couple of uniformed carabineros sporting sub-machine guns (this was during the military regime) rounded the corner, and the two men did bolt. Who knew cutting down pine trees to sell was black market business? As much as I wanted a fresh tree, I conceded that it would be counterproductive, maybe even mutually exclusive, to preach the gospel and commit a crime. I decided to look for an alternative.
The branches from our next door neighbor’s pine tree tended to intertwine with our power lines. So, the proverbial killing-two-birds-with-one-stone ploy kicked in. I asked for some of the branches, and he agreed. I lay awake that night, imagining how I would create our Christmas tree. It came out awesome in my dream. Next morning I wired the branches to a stick, buried the stick-trunk in a sand-filled bucket, and decorated our “tree.” It didn’t matter from what angle I looked at it, the same descriptors came to mind: tacky, scrawny, pathetic, puny . . . that will be a Christmas tree not soon forgotten. Next year I broke my vow: we purchased Chile’s best-looking artificial Christmas tree right off the floor from a now-defunct Sears store—the same tree I decorated this year.
Even though I miss holidays in the United States, many Chilean traditions are family oriented. For instance, on New Year’s Eve folks make the supreme effort to gather the family and dine. Some serve an elegant fare, but it’s also common to have an asado, consisting of barbecued beef, chicken, or pork, accompanied by an array of salads, such as potato, green beans with oil and lemon, or the traditional sliced tomato with feathered onions and minced cilantro. But the star of the circus in any asado is the choripan—charcoal-grilled sausages tucked into a piece of marraqueta, very similar in texture and taste to French bread, topped with mayonnaise and salsa. Makes my jaws squirt just to write it. At the stroke of midnight, friends and family toast with champagne and hug one another, wishing all Un Feliz y Prospero Año Nuevo—a happy and prosperous New Year.
Our town is only twenty minutes from the ocean, so when we’re of a mind, we can take off to the beach and enjoy a spectacular fireworks display. But if the old year has wiped us out and we prefer to escort in the new one from the recliner, we can watch the festivities on TV and still hear it from our house.
After thirty-six years in Chile, it’s safe to say we’re here for the long haul. Homesickness and holiday nostalgia ebb and flow, but one thing is never altered by location, culture shock, or differing tradition—Jesus. His entrance into our world is the epitome of humility; His earthly life, a perfect illustration of godliness; His death, the painful expression of love and only way to salvation; His resurrection, the ultimate proclamation of hope and eternity. I will never tire of thanking God for making the way for me to become part of His family.
Regardless if we are in Chile, the United States, or Afghanistan this New Year, if we have Jesus and make him Lord of our life, He’s home.
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
JOHN 14:23 (NIV)
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