Grieving During the Holidays & Short-Term Missions in Portugal
John McCallum knows the pain of struggling with grief and loss during the holiday season. But rather than sinking in sorrow, he’s using it to serve others. Europe is considered the least reached continent in the world with less than 1% evangelical Christians. Together, a praying church back in Fort Worth, their short-term missions team, IMB missionaries and local believers addressed a very real problem in Portugal — lostness.
John McCallum knows the pain of struggling with grief and loss during the holiday season. But rather than sinking in sorrow, he’s using it to serve others.
McCallum, senior pastor of First Baptist Hot Springs, makes a point to write a personal letter to everyone in his church just before the holiday season who has endured the loss of a family member since the last season.
He says the idea came to him while teaching a class on grief a few weeks before the holiday season.
McCallum’s father died the day after Christmas in 1987 and his mother passed on Christmas Eve 2008.
“I have learned that a note has a lasting impact. People keep it handy and look back at it. Some put it in their Bible for a season. The note lasts longer than a brief phone call,” said McCallum.
“Doing this also confirms what I’ve believed throughout my ministry, that when the pastor reaches out in shepherding love to grieving people, they don’t just feel the pastor’s touch; they feel Jesus’ touch.”
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Everyone excitedly crowded around the Thanksgiving feast. The tables overflowed with sweet potato casseroles, cranberry sauce, green bean casseroles, pumpkin and pecan pies. The turkey was roasted to a perfect, mouthwatering golden hue. Juice rolled down the sides of the meat dish as someone carved.
It was picture perfect. Phones immediately came out of pockets to document this not-so-traditional feast in Lisbon, Portugal. For most, it was their first time experiencing an American Thanksgiving outside of watching a movie. It was also the first time for some to hear what the hosts of the feast were most thankful for — Jesus’ saving grace.
A volunteer mission team from Travis Avenue Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas, prepared 13 Thanksgiving meals in one week to help IMB missionaries Jonathan and Bethany Sharp and local Portuguese believers gain gospel access within their community. Cans of pumpkin and cranberry sauce stuffed in the Texans’ luggage turned into opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ and be invited back.
“People in Portugal are very interested in anything that is culturally American,” Jonathan said. “An event like this becomes a cultural exchange. We share food and praise music, and they share back.”
The Sharps hosted their first Thanksgiving in Portugal nine years ago when they were in language school. They used it to meet their neighbors and practice Portuguese. With each passing year, the event grew larger with teams from churches in the U.S. coming to help. It became a way to share the gospel in a non-threatening way and mentor local believers.
This year, the team from Travis Avenue made it possible to take the festivities outside of their home and church, Igreja Baptista Vida Nova. They partnered with small groups and four church plants to host the cultural exchange in different locations.
Europe is considered the least reached continent in the world with less than 1% evangelical Christians. Together, a praying church back in Fort Worth, their short-term missions team, IMB missionaries and local believers addressed a very real problem in Portugal — lostness.
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