Defending Faith at Christmas
In the U.S., we assume that there will be holiday stress and the stress of gathering families – from performance anxiety about food preparation to “what to do with weird Uncle Al.”
In Poland, Christmas is an intensely family time. Often extended families are together from Christmas Eve to the second day after Christmas – old and young together in small apartments, eating and drinking far more than usual with huge expectations for twelve specific dishes on Christmas Eve, and new and special meals to prepare each day thereafter – no recycling or leftovers! Shops are shuttered tight.
Under the best circumstances, such togetherness can be a joy to celebrate. However, it can become a toxic mix.
Some Protestant believers in Poland find the Christmas holiday uniquely stressful because they know they will be asked (one more time) to explain why on EARTH they have chosen not to be “like the rest of us” in a country where 95% of the population is at least nominally Catholic.
As a result, they may be called upon to defend their faith to a family that may feel openly rejected or fearful or even hostile. Many assert that Protestants are not really Christians at all.
For any of us, defending our faith in five sentences or less would be a challenge. It’s especially daunting for younger people, both at home and at school. In Poland, the weight of history, religion and patriotism is summoned to justify and bolster anti-Protestant sentiments.
Attending midnight mass is de rigeur even for many atheist families. When Protestants worship in another place and at another time it sends a message of difference or even exclusion.
Often Protestants define themselves by what they DON’T do (worship images, perform certain rites, rituals or pilgrimages) rather than talk in positive terms about what they DO believe. When emotions already run high, this approach may only foster more anger or outrage: the implicit message is that the rest of the family is continuing in practices, rituals or beliefs that the believer has somehow risen above.
That’s why we’re hoping that “What do we Believe?” a collection in contemporary Polish language of confessions and writings by Reformed believers about faith, will be available by Easter. It will help believers understand the distinctives of their faith. And, it will give them language and a reference point when they wish to articulate the historical and theological grounds of their beliefs.
This project is critically important to helping Reformed youth and adults articulate their faith with credibility and conviction, in contemporary language. Most of the preparation – updating language, laying out the book – is done and has been donated. Youth have been involved in the project from the outset. To learn more about this effort to ground and deepen faith, erode stereotypes, and foster acceptance and understanding, please refer to: http://globalministries.org/mee/projects/special-gifts-for-the.html
May your Christmas season be blessed,
Liz and Doug Searles in Lodz, PL
Doug and Elizabeth Searles serve with the Evangelical Reformed Church in Poland. They serve as mission workers for church growth and outreach.