Christmas is blanketed by joyous laughter, church gatherings, carols, gifts and comfort food. Time-honored traditions steeped in cherished moments with family and friends are anticipated all year. A select few, though, remove themselves from this familiarity for the sake of the greater good.
Brandon Butler, his wife Natasha and their children India, Judah and Naomi of the Mosaic Church community will spend their holiday away from home this year, on a mission to share the love of Christ in Southeast Asia. The family serves as missionaries in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where 95 percent of the population claims Buddhism as their religion.
Fighting Human Trafficking
Brandon, the regional director of Agape International Missions (AIM) spends his time fighting to end human trafficking, restoring victims and transforming communities. He and his family have been in Cambodia for more than two years. “We plan on being here as long as God has us and there is work to be done,” Brandon says. His missionary work uses a holistic strategy of prevention, rescue, restoration and reintegration to fight the ground war on child sex trafficking.
Described by Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission, human trafficking is “the ugliest, most preventable man-made disaster on the globe today,” destroying the lives of more than 30 million children over the past 30 years (according to UNICEF). AIM’s program helps more than 10,000 people in Cambodia each year. With God’s arms reaching out to so many, it is no wonder Brandon’s favorite thing about being in the country is the work he does. “I get to see lives actually rescued out of captivity, and then I get to walk alongside those lives as they begin the process of healing and freedom,” he says. “Honestly, who gets to say they do that every day?”
Though it’s the favorite part of his journey, he admits, his job is not easy as he encounters innumerable heartbreaking situations daily. Through the trials and tribulations, Brandon strongly believes his family’s work in Cambodia is worth it. “It is the reason why we have moved our family of five to the other side of the world,” he says.
In a land where Christmas has little meaning, Brandon and his team at AIM see miracles take place on an everyday basis, though he admits that it is difficult for the family to be away from home during the holidays. He says most of all he misses family, friends and their community that comes together to celebrate. “We miss not having the midnight candlelight services, the caroling with friends, the Christmas music on the radio, and taking the children to see the lights on the houses,” Brandon says.
Even though it is hard to be away, he and Natasha believe it is worth the sacrifice. “It teaches our kids to value what Christmas is really about,” he says. In addition, his family gets the privilege to celebrate the joy of experiencing Christmas with those for whom the holiday is new. Watching first-time celebrators enjoy and learn the true meaning of the holiday offers the Butler family a uniquely special time.
Engaging New Believers
Across the globe in Italy, another missionary is also hard at work sharing the love of Christ with others as well. Justin Valiquette, of the Winter Garden area, has been in Italy for four years planting a church and training indigenous leaders at Nuova Vita, Salerno.
In an area claimed to hold a history of spiritual darkness, Valiquette believes beginning a church and cultivating its members to disciple will yield amazing results for the Kingdom of Christ. But he knows the task isn’t easy. In fact, less than 1 percent of Italy has an evangelical church presence, leaving the country with few examples of churches that are impacting and redeeming their cities with the Gospel.
Valiquette’s strong passion for the vital role of local churches in the world, and a heart for the nation of Italy, led him to this path of mission work. “I love learning a new culture and seeing what exercising my faith looks like here,” he says. “Being in America can be so comfortable sometimes that you rarely have to exercise faith in God on a practical level. Being here makes us realize how much we need Him every day. We’re nothing without Jesus.”
He hopes that as new believers are engaged in the redeeming love of God, the people of Italy will begin to redefine what it means to be part of a Biblically faithful church.
His reliance on his faith proves strong during the holiday season. “It’s really hard being away from home, especially from family and friends,” Valiquette says. “It has caused us to really enjoy each other more deeply and appreciate the true meaning of Christmas.”
On a Mission
As your family celebrates the holidays this year, remember the individuals and families spread throughout the world who are on a mission of love. They reside in foreign lands such as Brazil, Mexico, Italy, Southeast Asia, South and North Africa, Kenya, the Philippines and Honduras. Some are welcomed missionaries where others are not and risk their lives to pursue their current purpose. Each of them has a home and family they won’t visit this year. Yet their passion for God and their passion for others propel them to continue their work.
The efforts of those who choose to be away from the comfort and customs they’ve grown to love during Christmas are best summed up in Luke 4, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”