One Siberian Christmas

“One Siberian Christmas,” New Era, Dec. 1999, 26

One Siberian Christmas

My family was on the other side of the world, but thanks to a simple note, my Christmas was out of this world.

The month of December found me in the mission field, living my childhood dream. I had been serving in Siberia for six months, and though I wasn’t fluent in the language and had not baptized thousands, my time in Russia had been the happiest of my life.

Christmas had always been my favorite time of the year because of the chance to be with family, visit Temple Square, decorate the tree, and enjoy all of the other traditions that had developed over time. But this year all those memories I treasured were in the past, and my family was literally on the other side of the world. I tried to be positive, realizing I had the opportunity to make this the best Christmas ever. I thought and prayed about how I could make the most of this holiday season. I wanted to draw closer to Christ and serve those around me. But day after day, as I pondered how to make Christmas special, the inspiration I sought wouldn’t come.

I was frustrated with my failure to make the holiday unique. I finally decided to continue serving the Lord as I had since the beginning of my mission, knowing that simply serving Him with all my heart, might, mind, and strength would be the best way to observe Christmas.

On Christmas Eve we went with the branch president to give an older woman a blessing. I remember feeling that I was ministering in behalf of the Savior for one of Heavenly Father’s children in need. After coming home we read the account of the Savior’s birth in the Bible and reverently sang “Silent Night.”

Unlike my childhood years, I had no problem falling asleep. In the morning we arose, turned on Christmas music, and took turns opening the packages we had received from family at home and from our friends in Russia. After a while, torn wrapping paper covered the floor, and we only had a few presents left. I decided to open the nicely wrapped gift that Ella had given me two days earlier. She had been an investigator for the last few months and was slowly progressing toward baptism. Her circumstances led us to hope she would be baptized in February or March.

Ella was an English teacher with a wonderful family, and every week we looked forward to our discussions with her. We had become good friends, and I wanted her to have the blessings of the gospel in her life.

As I opened the package, I found a book of sonnets of a famous writer that I’d told her I wanted to buy. Opening the book I found a small note that read, “I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.” In the postscript, she had written, “I want you to baptize me in January.”

I screamed for joy loud enough to wake the neighbors. But following the initial excitement I started crying. The joy I felt is impossible to describe. Heavenly Father had answered my prayer. This Christmas was a special one. I had been a part in helping someone else come unto Christ.

Two weeks later, Ella was baptized, and now she is working on bringing the rest of her family into the Church.

Christmas that year was unique, and the joy I felt was unmistakable.

Illustrated by Keith Larson