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How Christmas Changed for Us

WRITTEN BY SHAWN PLUMMER

For those of us who grew up celebrating Christmas in Canada, the holiday carries with it a whole host of sentimental trappings - fresh cut Christmas trees, skating on outdoor lakes, sparkling Christmas markets, sweet smelling baked goods, caroling in candlelit churches, and of course - snow! 

But early in our marriage, my wife, Lindsay, and I discovered that, while we love all the things I just mentioned, the real heart of Christmas beats much deeper. 

We were living overseas at the time; I was managing relief and development operations along the Eritrea / Sudan border and Lindsay, who was pregnant with our first child, was developing education curriculum around HIV/AIDs. I was desperately trying to bring the comforts of Christmas to our home for the holidays, and at the time, it felt like a real sacrifice for the two of us to not be with our families in British Columbia for the first time.

While we missed our families terribly, Lindsay and I had fallen in love with the Eritrean people - they’d captivated us with their beauty and warmth, despite the rugged and unforgiving landscape and challenging conditions. The team we worked with was united by the calling to serve these people along the border who were cut off by conflict and lacking livelihoods, education, and a functioning health system. 

Lindsay ended up paying an unthinkable amount of money for the last frozen turkey in the entire capital, but it was so worth it! Our local staff and their families, together with our global expatriate community, gathered to enjoy the richness of a Christmas celebrated together, some of us missing home but cherishing one another’s company. 

A Canadian Christmas, as we knew it, never did show up in Eritrea. But the true meaning of Christmas bonded our diverse group of Christian relief workers together - we had come from all over the world but we shared the common purpose of bringing hope and humanity to a dark place. The truth was, most of our staff had only known war time for the majority of their lives. The real power of the biblical story was all that our new friends had, and they shared how it gave them the strength to endure, and even sometimes rejoice. Their quiet strength, resilience, and faith was a defining moment for Lindsay and me.

Today as we celebrate the Good News Christmas brings, let’s remember those around the world who also celebrate, but at the same time, face challenging circumstances. God has called the Food for the Hungry (FH) staff around the world to tear down the walls that keep us apart and to walk alongside the most vulnerable. I’m so thankful for how you’re helping FH fulfill that mission. 

Christmas reveals to us how great our God is. Jesus, making himself Emmanuel “God with us”, is the real depth of the holiday for those of us who follow Christ. When Jesus was born, the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” 

May the reality of the peace and favour that Jesus came to bring each of us saturate your heart, mind, and everyday life this Christmas season, as it did for Lindsay and me all those years ago in Eritrea.

Shawn and Lindsay celebrating a memorable Christmas in Eritrea in 2004.
Shawn and Lindsay enjoying a Canadian Christmas in 2016.

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Food for the Hungry: How Christmas Changed for Us
How Christmas Changed for Us
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Food for the Hungry
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