Our local ward is putting together a collection of Christmas stories to send to the missionaries who are presently serving missions from our ward. They specifically asked for Christmas stories from our missions. And when I heard that I knew that I had to share the following story:
In 1991, I spent my first Christmas away from my family. I loved Christmas time as a kid, and it was hard to be away from my family. But I was serving the Lord in Pusan, Korea and I knew that I was where my family and the Lord wanted me to be.
However, since, I was still a new missionary, and I hadn’t quite learned the language yet, I was lonely. Sure, I had a companion, and house mates, and many wonderful people in the Ward that I was serving in. However, I just didn’t feel like Christmas.
Koreans don’t celebrate Christmas very much. It is at best an after thought for most people. So, there were no dinner invites, or extensive decorations. I remember that the only sign of Christmas was a Christmas tree in the lobby of the church that we had managed to acquire through the local U.S. Army Base (it is illegal to cut down any tree in Korea, so this tree was from the U.S.).
I finally realized that I was homesick when I was riding on a bus, and everyone seemed to remind me of someone at home. I saw my Bishop, a friend from high school, and others. It was getting bad.
Unfortunately, my companion didn’t make it much better. He was in his 22nd month and was ready to go home. I won’t say that he was trunky, but I got sick and tired of watching the video that his family had sent him for Christmas.
The real kicker for that year on Christmas was Christmas day itself. My companion had figured that since it was Christmas Day he didn’t need to work. Instead we went to the Ward building and talked with the members for most of the day. At first there were very few members, but as the day went on, teenagers started arriving after school was out, and my companion who spoke better than I was enjoying talking to them. Instead, I was left to myself and the occasion member who felt pity enough to try and talk with me.
It was then that I had resolved that the next year, I was going to follow the council of President Kimball on how to overcome homesickness. While in the MTC, my teachers encouraged us to memorize a quote from President Benson. It said, “There will be no homesickness, no worrying about families, for all time and talents and interests are centered on the work of the ministry. Work, work, work—there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work” (The Teaching of Ezra Taft Benson , 200). So I committed myself to work on Christmas day.
A year later the opportunity came to follow-up on my promise. I advise my companion, who was even more green than I was a year ago, that we weren’t going to relax on Christmas. I told him that we were going to work. Be a more humble missionary than I was, he graciously agreed. We had no appointments and little plans accept an activity in the Branch that evening. So, we hit the pavement.
At first, it was a lot of the usual street proselyting activity. There was not much success as the city we were in was very small, and most of the people knew who we were any way. After lunch I remember thinking that we need to head to the business district and proselyte on the way. But the weather turned cold, and it was very tempting just to head to the Branch building to visit with some of the members.
However, remembering my commitment of a year ago, we pushed through the cold. As the wind blew fiercely, I talked to a high school student. Who at first didn’t really seem all that interested. And honestly, when he made the appointment I was sure that he wasn’t planning on showing up. Really, at the time I didn’t think much about the situation, accept that I remember the cold wind and this kid’s willingness to talk to me for so long.
He did show up to our first appointment and after several visits he ultimately committed to be baptized. It was then I remember that I had first met this kid while proselyting on Christmas day. The Lord blessed me with less homesickness, but he also brought one of his chosen children to help him onto the path.