Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The True Meaning of Christmas: Building A Sustainable Future A Family at a Time

From time to time I run across something unique that some missionary shares on their blog and which I feel should be read by a greater audience.  One of the blogs I have been following is Sister Debra Andersen's La Piedra.  Sister Andersen and her companion Sister Downs have discovered the true meaning of Christmas.  I was really impressed by her actions and thoughts this past couple of weeks as they unselfishly looked out for a family they recently baptized.

On 17 December 2009 Sister Andersen wrote:
Bacilisa (I think I finally have the spelling right) and her 12-year-old son Guadalupe were baptized! They are SO neat. Just solid. They have both expressed to us how much happier they are now, how much easier things are. Their burdens have been made light. I adore that family. If I have to leave this area, they will be very hard to say goodbye to. Guadalupe's personality reminds me SO much of Foster!
It turns out that the mother is a single parent who supports her family by working at Wendy's for minimum wage.

The following week Sister Andersen tells about how a member family surprises the missionaries each year by giving them a gift of money with a condition of using it to help the less fortunate and what the missionaries decided to do with the money.  It really is a heart-warming experience of how they used the money:
I am so excited about Christmas! Listen to what we've got planned. Sis. Downs' family has a tradition of donating money to their missionaries during the Christmas season to be used to help those in need. They have been very, very generous and as we've prayerfully considered what to do with those 'sacred' funds, we've devised a very exciting plan.

Bacilisa, Guadalupe, David and Anita (the newly baptized family) live in a not-so-good part of town. They live in a one bedroom apartment and have one old mattress on the floor that they all sleep on. There are holes in the floor. They have no furniture (besides a Virgin Mary clock, which we're working on eliminating...) and little food. They have a table and one broken chair and the biggest hearts I've yet to come across. Just thinking about this family makes my heart ache. I love them so much. I will be devastated when I have to say goodbye.

Bacilisa will be working at Wendy's all day on Christmas. So, with the very generous funds that have been donated by Sister Downs's family (and YOU Gram), and the mattresses that the mission recently replaced, we are going to surprise Bacilisa so that when she comes home from work she walks into a whole different apartment. A member family is even in on it, and will be donating some furniture. We're going to print pictures of their family to put on their walls. Put the beds in the room. Organize their clothes. Stock up their staple food. Pay the rent they're behind on. Set up a study table and add some chairs. Add a rug. A lamp. This family deserves it SO much.

Bacilisa, who ALONE supports these children by working at Wendy's, came to church yesterday and asked us to help her pay her tithing because she can't read the tithing form. The Lord really is blessing her through the generosity of all of these contributors. We even are going to buy her a warm winter coat, gloves, and mittens! She walks to the work everyday without one! We can't wait to act as instruments in the Lord's hands in helping this family. They are so earnest and zealous in their desire to do what is right.

I am so excited to have the opportunity to focus this season completely on the birth of Christ and the bounteous gifts that come to us through Him. And in turn, to find ways to carry that gift to the homes and hearts of others. Those without it really don’t know what they’re missing out on. Bacilisa, Guadalupe, David and Anita know what is important. They just do what is right the best way they know how to. And that’s what I think the Lord expects of us: to do what is right the best way we know how to.
The neatest part of the story and most exciting thing for me is not that the two missionaries improved some family that was down on their luck's living accommodation or as they call it their "sustainable future."  But rather that Sister Andersen internalized the real meaning of Christmas:

This Christmas was a very unique and special one for me. I was without family and without all the traditions that go hand-in-hand with it. I was without a big Christmas tree. I was without a big, plush sofa and a highly entertaining book to get lost in (okay the Book of Mormon is entertaining but you know what I mean). I was without caroling neighbors and nightly Russian Tea. The thing is that I didn’t really realize I was without those things until I sat down at this computer to reflect on Christmas and write home about it.

This is not meant to be a ‘look how selfless I am’ plea, nor a ‘pity me’ plea but rather an honest affirmation of how superfluous all those things are to the Christmas season. It may be true that December 25 isn’t the real date that Christ was born to a young and probably frightened Mary and it may be true that Christmas has become, as Charlie Brown put it, ‘a product of commercialization,’ but it is also very true that no matter what time of the year it is, as we focus our minds and turn our hearts towards the birth of Christ and all of the innumerable blessings that are a product thereof, that we simply cannot help but feel a profound gratitude and humbling awareness of the truth declared in John 3:16, “For God so loved the word that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should no perish, but have everlasting life.”

The highlight of this Christmas was spending all day transforming Bacilisa’s tired apartment into a home for a family. It was hard work. Much more work than we’d anticipated. We’d allotted 4 hours for the job but taken at least 6 and hadn’t finished. Deep cleaning, organizing, setting up beds, moving furniture, replacing old hardware, degutting old cupboards (all of which is not a product of laziness or neglect, but rather a mother of three, who receives no child support, who works at Wendy’s from 8-7 everyday and comes home exhausted to cook dinner and get some sleep). While she was at work and with the help of several others, we were to make some serious changes. They live in a very bad area of town (areas of town I didn’t know existed in the United States) in a very run-down apartment complex that probably should have been fumigated years ago. With just one bed, the oldest 12-year-old son slept on the cold linoleum floor (that had holes in it)….you can imagine the rest.

It was a bit of bliss to give this family a home, a place to sleep, a place to sit, a book to read, staple food, lighting, warmth, orderliness. Often times, Christmas is a beautiful green tree dressed with lights and presents underneath. Sometimes Christmas is a mug of hot chocolate (please, make it peppermint), a comfy spot, a good book and plenty of time to read it. Occasionally Christmas is a big party with lots of good food, good friends and good music. I have experienced, enjoyed and loved each of those. But I must say, with the admitted fear of being the most cliché missionary in the world, that my favorite Christmas so far has been right here in Louisville, KY.

Excuse me while I draw my cheesy Christmas conclusion: On Christmas, throughout the years, I have spent my time shopping for hours for gifts, hoping to receive the perfect gift, hoping to fall in love, picking out stylish outfits for Christmas parties…it’s all a little embarrassing. But I am now completely convinced that the only way I can feel what I was hoping to feel when I went through those motions is to “waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things […that they] are truly manifest from heaven (D&C 123:13).” That’s how we can feel what we are constantly hoping to feel. In my book, that’s the answer. And the good news is, you didn’t miss you chance. It works anytime of the year.
 While many missionaries were trying to figure out what to do on Christmas or attending mission parties. Sister Anderson and her companion were making a difference in their community one family at a time.  This is what missionary work is really about.

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