Missionary Moment: Loving Embrace a Favorite Christmas Memory

Contributed By Julie Dockstader Heaps, Church News correspondent

  • 10 December 2015

One woman in particular I will never forget. As we left the building, I glanced behind me. Many of these people spoke Afrikaans, one of the many languages of South Africa. The only thing I knew was “Geseende Kersfees,” Merry Christmas. 

It was 30 years ago this Christmas that I was a missionary in South Africa, my first time away from home. I had just arrived the previous month, and being some 10,000 miles from home, I was mighty homesick.

Then one evening that December, my companion and I rode in a convoy of cars with members of the ward we attended near Cape Town to a senior living residence nearby. In this case, it was apparent these people did not have much in the way of material goods. Each did have their own small room, but I'm not sure there were any elevators for these elderly people living on at least two levels in that building.

We entered with a fairly large group of youth and members and went down the hallway to a resident on the first level. We spilled out into the hall as we began singing Christmas carols.

Because the stairs to the various levels were in an open area in the middle of the building, I could see up into the other hallways. As we sang, I began to hear doors opening. I looked up and could see residents emerging from their small rooms, watching us over the rails. The feeling I picked up in my 22-year-old heart was the loneliness and longing I felt from these good people. I wondered if they had anyone to visit them during the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

One woman in particular I will never forget. As we left the building, I glanced behind me and she had come down the stairs from her room to listen closer. Many of these people spoke Afrikaans, one of the many languages of South Africa. The only thing I knew was “Geseende Kersfees,” Merry Christmas.

Something about this woman drew me. I don't know if it was the season—or a loneliness I felt from her. Maybe we both felt alone. Maybe she had no family, and I sorely missed mine. Suddenly I ran back and hugged her. She spoke to me in Afrikaans. I had no idea what she was saying—but I felt what she was saying.

She was still standing there as we left. I can see her in my mind's eye as I write this. And I will never forget her. Because of her the Christmas of 1985 is indelibly etched in my favorite of the season's memories.