Focusing on Gratitude

Tanzania missionary Stephanie Boon reflects on the challenge of seeing holiday decadence and ministering to the poor.

“And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21 ESV) 

One of the hardest things about being an American living in a developing country is the constant tug between the world you left and the world you’re in. 

To Americans, we’re the missionaries who are always in need, the ones who sacrificed all. But to many in our host country, we’re the wealthy who should give more. 

I felt this internal tug-of-war acutely one Christmas morning. I sat watching my children open their gifts, my grandmother’s coffee mug in hand. We ran the AC all morning for relief from our unwelcome guest, the hot season. I felt so thankful, as I looked at our beautiful, glistening tree and the many gifts under it. 

And then the feeling came. That familiar puncture to the heart. I thought about the local children who rummage through our trash. I thought about the lady who had just knocked on our door begging for money. I thought about the many parents desperately looking for funds to pay their children’s school fees. And I felt guilty as I watched my children’s joy. 

I hadn’t taken another sip from my coffee when my mind and heart switched to my other mode, my American side. I looked at that same tree and felt embarrassed by its size. I scanned the gifts and considered how sad our little display would look to an American. I wiped sweat off my forehead, because, let’s be honest, one AC unit can only mitigate the heat so much. I coveted the sweaters, boots, and cozy, blanketed family nights I had seen on social media. 

I thought about taking a picture and posting it online, but I didn’t want to provoke either of my two worlds to pity or envy. That emotional tug-of-war was even less welcome than the hot season itself. 

It’s hard to articulate the pendulum swings between guilt and jealousy, gratitude and shame. Enjoying life is far from simple, but this is where God has placed us. 

This Christmas let’s face our circumstances bravely with the faith that God is in control. Like Job, who lived faithfully in plenty and in little, may we always bless the name of the Lord. Finding peace and contentment in our shaky and fluctuating middle ground. 

Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of where you’ve placed each one of us in life. No matter what, we can always rest in the promise that you’re guiding us and watching over us. As we go into Christmas, give us a heart of peace and contentment with where we are. Help us fix our gaze on you and not on the material world and the expectations placed on us. Thank you for the gift of your Son! Amen. 

Prayer Requests:

  • Pray that missionaries around the world would have peace and contentment as they navigate the tension of living with different standards of material prosperity. 
  • Pray for comfort for missionaries celebrating the holidays away from family and loved ones. 
  • Pray for the ABWE team in Tanzania and their national partners as they serve their community through evangelism, healthcare, counseling, entrepreneurial and sewing skills courses, and theological training for pastors. 
  • Pray for new Tanzanian believers to be strengthened and firmly rooted in their faith. 

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article in our 2023 Advent devotional series. Join us each week as we meditate on Christ’s birth and God’s glorious plan for our salvation.

This article was originally published on December 9, 2021.

Stephanie Boon

Stephanie Boon is an ABWE missionary who lives in Tanzania with her husband and their five children.  She co-founded Sifa Collective, which equips women with the hope of the gospel and tools to launch their own local businesses. After earning her M.A. in Counseling and B.S. in Counseling (Theology/Psychology), she worked with colleagues to open a Community Counseling Center in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where they provide gospel-centered individual and group counseling, and counseling training for local churches. Read her blog at Things We Didn't Know or support her ministry.