PETALING JAYA: Since escaping Pakistan and coming to Malaysia as refugees, this family has found a community among fellow worshippers at the Church of The Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Joseph, Jessie and their three children have celebrated every Christmas with their church community since they arrived in 2014.
However, this year, the pandemic has changed everything for them as it has for everyone and Christmas 2020 will feel quite different to the last six.
“This year, Christmas is almost silent because of Covid-19,” Joseph tells FMT at the family home in Ampang. “There are no bells ringing anywhere this time around.”
With large Christmas gatherings still out of the question, the parties thrown by community members that the family had come to look forward to will be replaced by quieter family celebrations spent at home.
However, the recent loosening of some restrictions means they will now be allowed to finally reunite with some of their fellow parishioners over Christmas.
During the pandemic, money has become tight for the two schoolteachers, and Jessie says there will be fewer gifts under the tree for the kids this year.
“Christmas this year is a bit boring,” their son Anosh Francis tells FMT. “Normally everyone is joyful at Christmas, but this year it’s been so quiet.”
Joseph says they are doing what they can to bring a little festive cheer into their home. “We’ve put up our tree and decorated it, and we’ve been observing the advent season to prepare ourselves and get into the spirit.”
The family believes in counting their blessings at Christmas, especially at such a time of crisis in the world.
“Even if we can’t go out visiting this year, Jesus is in our hearts,” says Joseph. “We have to celebrate in good times or bad times, and in difficult times.”
Things are no easier for fellow Pakistani refugee Johnson Albert, who works as a security guard to support his wife and two sons in Plaza Indah, Kajang.
He and his family normally invite lots of people from their community into their home for prayers, but this year that’s simply out of the question.
“Usually, we get around 30 people together in our home to pray on Christmas day but this year our gathering will have to be much smaller,” he tells FMT.
The younger children had become accustomed to Johnson’s seasonal gatherings and are missing the festive atmosphere they generated.
“They keep coming to me and asking me to arrange for us all to go out, but I have to tell them that we can’t do that because of the SOPs, and there’s not really a lot we can do.”
At the top of his Christmas wish list this year is the chance to find a sponsor so his family can be resettled somewhere like Canada or the US, although he knows the pandemic might make that difficult.
At home in Ampang, Joseph and his family have tried to find things to be thankful for in a year that many can’t wait to end.
“It is Jesus’ grace that has kept us safe and sound. So many people have been affected, so many have died, but we have been saved,” he says.
“We pray that for everyone around the world and of all religions, this Christmas and the next brings peace, harmony and of course health.”