"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Christmas in the Middle East

This Christmas is a little different for my wife and me. We’re well over 6,000 miles from our children. For the first time we won’t be spending Christmas together. We’re not snuggled in our cozy home with a fire in the fireplace. We’re not gathering at our familiar Christmas Eve service. We’ve not come together around the familiar and comfortable. My heart aches.

This Christmas we find ourselves much closer than we’ve ever been to the where all the action which brought us Christmas took place. A mere 640 miles away is Bethlehem, the site of Jesus’ birth. Just down the road from ancient Nineveh and a few clicks north of what was once Babylon we are once again entering into our Christmas celebrations.

We rejoice over and with new friends. We have a new faith-family with which we gather, give gifts, and sing the songs of hope and faith that are familiar to us. We share food, laughter, love, and hope.

We celebrate Immanuel, “God with us” (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23). My heart rejoices.

Be it surrounded by the comfortable and familiar or the new and sometimes strange, He remains.

Though those we love deepest are distant and ones we newly embrace are at hand, He remains.

Though I cannot hug my children and though I still struggle with simple greetings here, He remains.

We are not alone. God is with us. The celebration continues. Praise His Name!


  1. Jim Brandli

    I praise the Lord for you and your family.

  2. Linda

    Merry Christmas! This truly is a quite different time for so many. I am so overwhelmed by the love God has given us. Thank you for teaching me that. Though strangely different, He is always here. That is my comfort this season.

  3. Kay Peterson

    Wishing you and Julie a Blessed, Joy-filled Christmas! May God fill the void with His peace!
    Can you see the Bethlehem star?

    Love you !!
    Pete and Kay

  4. Tammy Laack

    Yes, He remains. And now, He is using you to encourage the saints there & to point those who are wondering aimlessly to the KING who was laid in manger-just 640 miles away. May your Light shine even brighter in that darkness. May you ‘remain’ focused & engaged in the work before you, until the King redirects your donkey (I mean-your path) ~Tammy

  5. Phil and Wendy Schrank

    You are in our thoughts and prayers! Life changes so quickly! But He DOES remain!

  6. SharonBenham

    Merry Christmas John and Julie. In this advent season you left home but your true home is found in the person of Jesus. Thank you for sharing with others hope, joy and love , thus giving others opportunity to pursue their true home. I love you both.

  7. Edie (Sipley) Dobson

    May God bless you both being so far away from family, but as Jesus said “here is my family and my brothers and sisters” no matter how far away you are, you will always have family!❤️ Praying for you that His mighty hand will protect and give you peace. The LORD is ever present.

  8. Alice

    Yes, it will be a different Christmas for you and your family. From what I’ve seen so far, this is definitely the place you are meant to be. How wonderful that Immanuel is everywhere at once. Have a Blessed Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year full of God’s abundant love.

  9. Kevin and Bonnie Sande

    I’m sure your Christmas looks so much different this year! My words are not adequate to express how I feel about you leaving your comfortable life to follow Him and be obedient. May He use you in a mighty way!

  10. Tim McCarty

    Christmas greetings from Greencastle, Pennsylvania. We won’t be having Christmas Eve service here, either, due to the pandemic, but other than that it will a considerably more normal Christmas for us than it sounds like yours will be. We did have our annual service of all Christmas music by congregation members last Sunday. No choir this year but as usual Jan “volunteered” me. We couldn’t get my accompaniment track of my planned song to work with the sound system, so I did a spur of the moment a capella “O Holy Night” instead. Figures. This year has been a lot of Plan B for us.

  11. Jan Steedly

    What an encouragement to see that you are serving Him right where He called you, and that He remains completely faithful. That is a good reminder for each of us, that God is faithful in whatever situation we are in. He has called us and He will be faithful to equip us for the task at hand. Blessings to you and Julie!

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