It’s lunchtime on Christmas Day, we’re sitting around our dining room table about to tuck into the turkey, ham, stuffing and cranberry sauce – the traditional Christmas dinner. Sitting around the table is my husband, my mum and dad, Alison and Andrew (a boyfriend and girlfriend from China), Tim* from Vietnam and not forgetting Archie the dog who is under the table, sitting expectantly, hoping that something might fall off for him!
Alison, Andrew and Tim have never been in the UK on Christmas Day before. In fact, they have never celebrated Christmas before. They know very little of what Christmas is about or of who Jesus is.
I got to know Alison and Tim through a hospitality event that we run at our church and later invited them along to a seeker Bible study at our friend’s house. Neither had read the Bible before. A few weeks before Christmas we had a question and answer session where they could ask any questions they wanted about Christmas. It was clear from their questions that many East Asian students don’t know the difference between Jesus and Santa and think the two stories are linked somehow. But international students are keen to learn what Christmas is truly about. Alison’s boyfriend Andrew wouldn’t come along to the Bible study or even the hospitality events in our friends homes. But, as it’s Christmas, for the first time in his life he finds himself sitting in a pew of a Belfast church, hearing about how Jesus has come into the world because of God’s love for him.
Back at the dining table, Alison asks, ‘What is that?’ The item in question is a Christmas cracker. I explain the tradition behind them.
‘Where are they made?’
‘Hmm I’m not sure, I’ll get the box out.’
‘Made in China!’ Laughter folllows.
Our Christmas Day looks much as it normally would. We go to church, have lunch, watch the Queen’s Speech (often at the students’ request – they love her words of wisdom), play games, open presents and, of course, walk Archie. But we have the privilege of sharing it with friends from other lands and of sharing
just a little of the true meaning of Christmas.
Having international students at Christmas is so much fun, introducing them to our many traditions and seeing their joy as they take pictures around the Christmas tree. It’s a great opportunity to show hospitality and love to the stranger as the Bible commends and commands. Your home doesn’t have to be perfect, your family doesn’t have to perfect, the food doesn’t have to perfect (they might not even notice). You don’t have to cook lots extra, as often your guests want to try a little, rather than eat a lot. We’ve often found with the help they offer it’s not much extra work. Whatever you have to offer, they really appreciate the invitation and they know that it is very special to be invited to join a local family on Christmas day.
We find that opening up our home often leads to invitations to their homes (ie. student apartments, bedsits) to enjoy some of their local food. A few months later we found ourselves at Tim’s bedsit in Belfast sitting on the floor with him and his girlfriend, eating a Vietnamese feast and being crowned ‘the foreign champions of chopsticks!’ All this builds friendships and often leads to an opportunity to share more about the Saviour of the world. Who could you welcome to your home?
Claire is part of the OMF Diaspora Returnee Ministry Team, serving East Asian students in Belfast and a member of the Friends International Welcome Committee.
*names of students have been changed