Missionary Moment: Cold Didn’t Stop Missionaries’ Christmas

Contributed By Paul Young, Church News contributor

  • 17 December 2014

In 1983, a chance for missionaries serving in the Canada Winnipeg Mission to celebrate Christmas together almost didn't happen due to record-breaking cold temperatures.

At the time I was a missionary in the Canada Winnipeg Mission, our mission boundaries extended across central Canada, from Saskatchewan to northwest Ontario and then up to the North Pole. It was an enormous area, and not all missionaries served in every province or zone. One of the consequences of having missionaries spread over such distances was the real possibility that you could arrive with a group and then not see some individuals until you finished and flew home.

Thankfully, President Hugh V. Bird made it possible for our entire mission to gather in Winnipeg over Christmas in 1983. From three provinces and all directions, missionaries arrived by car, train, and bus and then stayed with missionaries in Winnipeg. We were packed tight but very happy to be together.

During these shortest and darkest days of a northern winter we renewed friendships, enjoyed foods of the season, sang Christmas music, and then, like pinecones that open only during a forest fire, our understanding of the true meaning of and our appreciation for Christmas blossomed at a mission conference. For those in attendance, life would never be the same.

This nearly didn't happen.

On December 23, which turned out to be the coldest day of 1983, several missionaries boarded a train in Saskatchewan for the trip to Winnipeg. Part way into the journey, their train could go no further. Actual temperatures had dropped below -42 degrees in Saskatchewan's capital city of Regina, with wind chill temperatures that were reported at -100 degrees on the open prairie. In the U.S. and Canada, dozens and dozens of records were broken.

In Winnipeg, we were told that the cold had caused some train rails to break and separate, making train travel impossible. Transferred to buses, the missionaries continued their journey.

With the extreme cold making our mission van inoperable, and now missionaries arriving throughout the night, Elder William Nibley and I called President Bird to help us shuttle the arrivals as they came into Winnipeg. We stayed up all night and finally had everyone accounted for at 5:30 a.m., December 24, just a few hours before the festivities were to begin.

Ever since that day, at 505 Academy Road, I have looked at Christmas differently. I am thankful that I have never forgotten the warmth I felt despite so much cold.