Bacalar is a small, ancient town in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. It has about seven thousand inhabitants, and you can walk from one end of town to the other in only forty-five minutes.
Most of the homes are wooden huts with palm-tree leaves or aluminum sheets for a roof. The town sits on the edge of a beautiful lagoon that flows into a bay on the Caribbean near the bordering country of Belize, Central America.
In October 1982, the Bacalar Branch was organized, with just four members—my father, my mother, my sister, and me. I was sixteen years old at the time. A week later in family home evening, my father asked us a question: “What can we do so our branch will grow?”
For a while, we were all silent, thinking of an answer. Then my mother enthusiastically said, “Christmas is near. Why don’t we have a party for all the children in town? Many of them have never been to a party, and it would be a good experience for all of them. Surely many hearts will open to receive the gospel.”
We all thought this was an excellent idea, and my father began making assignments. Mother would make rag dolls for the girls; my sister would make piñatas and fill them with candy; my father would invite the state’s symphonic band to play Christmas carols during the party; and I would make airplanes out of vines for all the boys. We decided we would need 150 dolls and 150 airplanes. Joyfully we accepted our responsibilities, not realizing what sacrifices we would have to make in order for our party to become a reality. We realized this little by little.
In a later home evening, my father told our family that we wouldn’t be able to have Christmas gifts or a special Christmas dinner, as we usually did. I didn’t like that idea very much.
Then one afternoon when I returned home from school, I noticed that a bedsheet and some curtains were missing. A few days later, I couldn’t find some of my clothes. The same things were happening to my sister. When we investigated, we discovered that our mother was making rag dolls from the missing sheets, curtains, and clothing. I didn’t like that, and I almost argued with my mother about it.
As Christmas grew near, I had to sacrifice more and more of my time, money, and efforts in order to make the airplanes. My mother’s back started to hurt because she was spending so much time sewing the dolls by hand, and I finally had to sew on the dolls’ button eyes. I didn’t like that, either.
At last it was the day before the party. My father told me to put on a white shirt and tie so we could go to all the homes to invite the children.
On the day of the party, the children began arriving early—some came with their parents, and others came alone. In the afternoon, many more children arrived. The state’s symphonic band came and played Christmas hymns. I told Christmas stories. Next the children broke the piñatas, and each received some candy. Finally, two big lines formed—one for girls and one for boys—and my sister and I gave away the toys we had made.
I can’t describe the happy faces of those little children. But just one of those happy faces would have made all of our sacrifices worth it. Anger and envy disappeared from my heart and were transformed into tears of gratitude and joy. As each child took his gift, I received one of the most precious gifts of my life—the joy of serving others.
After our party, the missionaries arrived in Bacalar. Within two months, our branch had grown from four members to twenty-five. Six months later, there were forty-five members. Today, eleven years later, the Bacalar Branch is a ward with a beautiful meetinghouse.
Mother had been right. Because of the spirit of that first Christmas, many hearts—including our own—did open to receive the blessings of the gospel.