“Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world”
Yesterday, I posted about my favorite traditional/secular Christmas. I was thinking, though, that if I’m going to talk about my favorite Christmases, then the ones I spent on my mission deserve a special recognition.
I served an 18 month proselytising mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My mission was called the Canada Winnipeg Mission, and it covered all of the central time zone in Canada–effectively, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and about a third of Ontario. Technically, my mission also covered portions of Nunavut, all the way up to the North Pole, but the farthest north we had missionaries (at least while I was there) was Flin Flon.
I left for my mission on July 10, 2002, and, because transfers happen every 6 weeks, I had the choice to come home right before Christmas 2003, or at the end of January 2004. I chose to stay ’til January, mostly because my first Christmas in the mission field was so amazing.
I spent both Christmases in Winnipeg, the first one in Transcona, the second one in St. James. From what I saw, Christmas in Canada wasn’t that much different from the Christmases I grew up with–just colder, with more booze, and a strange pastry called butter tarts.
Where I was in Canada, most people who went to church belonged to one of two churches, either the United Church of Canada, or the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. They weren’t really interested in hearing our message, or changing their way of life.
A change came around Christmas, though. First of all, we changed our door approach to talk more about the birth of our Saviour. (See that? I’m talking about Canada, so I just used a Canadian/British spelling) People were more likely to let us in their homes.
Christmas on a mission is such an amazing time. Missionaries are already so focused on the Savior, (I’m talking about missionaries in general, so that gets an American spelling) and, despite what the cheesy shows on TV and the “Holiday” advertisements tell you, most people who celebrate Christmas do remember Christ. To have our message well (okay, better) received, to truly focus on what Christ and what Christmas is all about is the most amazing thing.
The last two weeks of my mission, the temperature never got above -45. We weren’t allowed outside for more than five minutes at a time, and, of course, that’s when the engine block heater on our car decided to conk out on us. I spent the last days of my mission stuck inside the mouse-infested apartment with my two companions (fortunately, there was a family-owned grocery store across the street, so we weren’t hurting for food). It was a very difficult time (even though I love Sister Jackson and Sister Johnson) and not a very spectacular way to end the mission. Even so, I was glad that I stayed an extra 6 weeks, so I could spend another Christmas in the missionfield.
When I got home, and my family was so eager to have the delayed Christmas that they had planned for me, I wasn’t really all that interested in opening presents, I would have just as soon shared the love and spirit that I felt for the special time of year.