I was born in Port Moresby, Papua, New Guinea, the third child in my family. Ours was a poor family. During my childhood, Christmas and birthdays were not the happy occasions that many children remember as they grow up. In fact, it was at these times that we were the most unhappy, knowing and seeing how other children were given gifts and treats.
We were poor for the most part because my father spent his small paycheck drinking on weekends. We were always hungry. When my mother tried to make Father see how we were suffering, he would become violently angry and would strike her until she was hurt and sobbing. How hard she tried to defend us children and care for us!
Christmases came and went. It was always the same for us. There was no money for presents and goodies. My sister and I would wake early on Christmas morning to the shouts of excitement from the neighborhood children who had found Christmas presents waiting for them.
Sometimes we children went off to the city dump to find something we could use or play with to comfort us. I longed for something new and shiny, a special gift meant just for me at Christmas.
One Sunday, my little sister returned home from a new church where she had gone with her cousin several times. She brought with her a missionary couple to meet the family. Elder and Sister Call were so very kind and humble. They began to teach us about the gospel of Jesus Christ and his true church. After hearing the discussions and praying much for the Spirit to guide us, we agreed to be baptized.
Our lives began to change spiritually, but financially we were still poor. So my childish longing for a real Christmas with presents meant just for me never materialized.
However, because of our conversion, my father changed and gave up his bad habits. He quit drinking, smoking, and leaving his family hungry on weekends. I was so happy and wanted to tell my father that I loved him, but I was afraid to. I also wished my father would express his love for me. I never heard him say how he felt about me as I was growing up.
Then I was called to serve in the Micronesia Guam Mission. While I was in the mission field, I received a letter from my father. He said, “Son, you have made me a very happy man serving on your mission.” At the end of the letter, he wrote, “Son, I love you. Keep up the good work of the Lord.”
My eyes filled with tears of joy. It was the first time he had ever said those words to me. I replied to my father’s letter and returned a gift to him. I said, “Dad, I love you too!”
Now I am home from my mission, and my father has served as branch president. As I look back, I realize that I have been blessed with some very special gifts—not the ones that children open at Christmastime, but gifts that are forever and can be cherished each day of my life.