Sunday, December 25, 2011

Stories from My Mission: Reading the Christmas Story

A year into my mission I was in a city named Oberá in the province of Misiones. The church there was struggling and we were there on special assignment to help fix some of the problems and revive the struggling branch, but that is another story. At the time this would be my first and only Christmas in Argentina, since my first Christmas was spent in the Missionary Training Center in Provo.

Christmas in Argentina is very different than it is in the United States. I remember when I was growing up there would always be talk of a "white Christmas" (always jokingly, I lived in Arizona). But everything about Christmas, all the decorations, the things we colored in school and things we talked about in primary were associated with a "cold", "snowy" wintertime Christmas. But in Argentina Christmas falls in the middle of the summer, thus there it was associated with BBQ's, and fireworks and parades (processions). There were a few things that were odd and out of place that obviously had been imported from the United States (if not physically imported, then culturally imported), such as pictures of snowmen and "holiday" specials on TV that mostly consisted of Tim Allen's The Santa Clause or Arnold Schwarzenegger's Jingle All the Way dubbed in Spanish. For some reason those were popular in Argentina.

At this time of year as missionaries we would also have the opportunity of celebrate. The missionaries in my Zone (a group of about 10-16 missionaries) decided to get together for Christmas and have a BBQ. Only 6 of the 12 missionaries in my Zone were actually in Oberá so the others would have to travel in from other cities to spend Christmas with us. This meant that we would have to go pick them up at the bus terminal (we walked, we didn't have cars) and show them how to get to our apartment and where the hotel was and everything. This meant a lot of walking around making sure no one got lost. We also had to go out and buy the meat that we wanted, the seasonings, and all the other food we were going to make. So like many Christmas get-togethers, and us as the hosts, we were busy. Very busy.

In the middle of all of this my companion got sick and was out of commission for most of the day before Christmas. With all of the stress, illness and commotion I was failing to feel the spirit of Christmas and feel like it was something special. I was, we all were, being overwhelmed by too much stuff.

In my family we had the tradition that we would get together at my grandparents house and my grandfather would read the Christmas story from the book of Luke in the Bible. In the middle of all the commotion I was missing this special tradition and felt that I should do something.

Because everyone was going every which way I never really found the time to get the missionaries together to read the Christmas story. But my companion was sick and immobile so in a brief moment of pause I sat down with him and said that I thought it would be a good idea to read the Christmas story from Luke. He agreed and I opened my Bible and began to read.

As I read the story there was a change in both of us. Whereas we had been frenzied and distracted, as we focused on the reason for Christmas and read the story of Christ's birth we returned to a more peaceful and calm spirit that brought us a measure of relief. When the story came to a close my companion looked at me as said, "Thank you, that is what I was missing. We have been worrying about too much stuff, but this really brought us back to the true meaning of Christmas."

Even though there were still things to do we had come back to the true spirit of Christmas and that made it all worthwhile.