“A String and a Tuna Fish Can,” Ensign, Dec. 2010, 51
As my first Christmas as a missionary in Ecuador approached, I was not sure what to expect. A few weeks earlier I had been transferred to what was up to that point the poorest area to which I had been assigned. Without even a single paved road, the frequent passing of buses would keep more dust and dirt in the air than what was on the ground, making it next to impossible to see the relatively few Christmas lights that had been hung.
Upon my arrival at my new area, I was greeted with a letter from home. It included a story from my father about how he and his missionary companion, while serving in a poor post-war section of Germany, had bought a bag of candy and walked the streets on Christmas morning passing it out to children. He described the children’s faces as he gave them what was probably one of the few gifts the children had received. For some, it was the first piece of candy they had ever had.
After I shared the story with my companion, we decided to set out and do the same. As we walked the streets and passed out candy, the children graciously accepted our gifts and ran to show their parents, whose thanks we felt as they nodded their approval. We found, as had my father and grandfather, that the greatest joy at Christmas comes from serving others in whatever manner we can.
We approached a happy six-year-old boy playing in the dirt. To our amazement, he declined the piece of candy we offered him. When we asked him why, he told us he had already been given the best gift ever. We were curious and asked him to tell us what it was. He looked at us impatiently and said, “Can’t you see?” Our eyes searched for a shiny toy or new clothes—anything that seemed worthy of declining our piece of candy. But we saw nothing. We asked him again to tell us about his great gift.
He stopped playing, looked up at us, and with the biggest smile I have ever seen, showed us a piece of string. He told us how much he loved his parents for teaching him to be good enough for Santa Claus to leave him the string. He told us his father had helped him put a hole in an empty tuna fish can so the boy could tie it to his string, turning it into a “dump truck” that he had used all morning to haul rocks across the neighborhood.
“Thanks for the candy,” he said, “but I have too much work to do. I have to haul these rocks before it gets too dark to see.”
On Christmases since that day, I have seen children show off the gifts they have received for Christmas. But I have yet to see evidence of happiness that compares to that of the boy whose joy lay in a simple piece of string tied to a tuna fish can, a gift from his father, who served him as best he could.