17 December 2020

Christmas in Guyana

Carolyn Lawrence recalls Christmas as a mission partner in Guyana.

I wonder if there is a Christmas season in your lifetime that stands out as being the most memorable for some reason?  I am guessing that Christmas 2020 may well be one of those occasions that will remain etched in our memories for a long time to come!

For me, the Christmas that has had the most impact on my life, is the year that we were living and serving as mission partners in Guyana, South America.  It was a particularly poignant and difficult time for me and a time when God taught me many valuable lessons. 

Guyana is close to the equator and the weather is much the same all year round – hot, humid and rainy.  It was very surreal seeing Christmas decorations everywhere, people wearing Santa hats and hearing carols while it was in the 80s and 90s!  We were accustomed to cold and dark Christmases so it was odd to be ambling around in shorts and flip flops!  Since returning home I am so thankful for the changing seasons and appreciate the variety of our climate!

We found it so hard being away from our friends and family especially at Christmas time and it was made worse because we didn’t at that time have a landline or any internet connection so could only make brief contact on a pay as you go phone or if we visited an internet café. As we spoke briefly to our family on Christmas morning we were reminded how far away from home and family we were.

One act of kindness stood out for me that year when a friend from the UK sent me a little Christmas fairy decoration – the post was very erratic out there and it was amazing that this gift made it to us.  It meant so much to me as it was a lovely contact with home and as the only decoration we had that year, took pride of place in our home. 

The traditional meal on Christmas day in Guyana is pepper pot, which has its origins in the Amerindian culture. It is made of beef stewed in spices with cows’ feet to make it set.  Many people also eat chicken and rice followed by ‘black cake’ which is a dark fruit cake soaked in rum (unless you are a Methodist of course!).

It was difficult to obtain our familiar food there and I reflected that usually at Christmas my cupboards would be groaning with goodies and yet now I only had a few tins and packets of food – it was probably the only Christmas I haven’t gained weight so every cloud has a silver lining!

There is a lot of poverty in Guyana especially amongst the elderly who can only survive with the support of their families, and one of our churches put on a social for the local elderly people just before Christmas.  They provided a three course meal and a little gift bag of basics such as flannel and soap and it was moving to see how appreciated these gifts were.  For some of the people this was the best meal they had had all year and a wonderful outreach ministry.

One of our churches held a party just between Christmas and New Year for the children of the village. The children were each given a little present and that was a poignant moment.  Earlier I had asked each of the children what they had received for Christmas and several of them said ‘nothing’.  When given the little cheap plastic toys from the church they looked so happy and held onto them as though they were precious gifts.  I found that very moving when I thought about how much is given and received by way of gifts in the UK.

Christmas Day started at 4am when we got up ready to go to our first service at 5am!    We never even got up that early when the children were little! The service was accompanied by a bat swooping around my head as it was just about dawn by then. 

I wrote the following in my blog at the end of Christmas day:

‘It has not really felt like Christmas to us as everything is so different to our usual traditions and of course we are away from our loved ones.  We have had no decorations, haven’t given or received gifts, have had little food, there is nothing on TV, no parties to go to and it has seemed in lots of ways just like an ordinary day.  The things I am missing are not the material things but our loved ones and the traditions we usually share together.

I guess that for most people around the world living in poverty, in conditions of war, under occupation, oppression or persecution it really is just another day and all we are left with is Jesus – he is meant to be the focus of this day anyway so I think maybe it has all been put into perspective for me this year.’ 

I will close with some questions to reflect upon as you prepare for Christmas:

  • Do you know someone who is away from loved ones this Christmas? Either through distance or because of bereavement or relationship breakdown?  Maybe you could think of a practical way to let them know they are not forgotten.
  • Can you think of someone who might appreciate being taken a meal a hamper or some supermarket vouchers to help them out? Could you make a donation to a charity helping refugees or the poor this Christmas?
  • Do you know of any people who might be alone and unable to be with family who may appreciate a gift or a doorstep visit?
  • Does Jesus have centre place in your Christmas or is he pushed to the side-lines in the busyness of it all? What will you do to prepare your heart for celebrating the birth of Jesus this year?  Will it just be a time of eating and presents or will you allow some time and space to consider God’s gift of Jesus to us at Christmas and his impact on your life? 
  • Is there someone you wouldn’t usually give a small gift to who would appreciate a gift this Christmas? Maybe someone you wish to show your gratitude to or someone who may least expect it?  Perhaps someone who has had a tough year through illness or bereavement? Or someone who is new to your area, church or street?  Someone who has helped you or supported you? 

I pray that these reflections will be an encouragement or a challenge to you today and as you prepare for your own Christmas celebrations, and that once again you will know the truth that in Christ, God is with us, and we are never alone or left without hope.

Carolyn Lawrence, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference 2020-21.

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