A Christmas Night in Portugal

We had met that Christmas day in Portugal with the other missionaries in our zone, exchanging gifts and enjoying the time together. The rain outside had done nothing to dampen the spirit within the Porto chapel where we met. Still, something seemed to be missing. My companion and I finally decided that what we needed was to visit our investigators and sing Christmas songs to them. Everyone liked the idea, and soon we all were gathering our raincoats, umbrellas, scriptures, and hymnbooks.

The first group of people we visited lived close to the center of the city in an abandoned monastery. These were Portuguese families who had lived in Africa, but the civil wars there had forced them to flee to Portugal. They had been wealthy in Africa, but now they had almost nothing.

At the monastery we started to climb the steps to the rooms where the people lived. But the wood was old and creaked, and we were afraid the sound would alert the people and spoil the surprise. So we positioned ourselves in the middle of the center court, where the roof leaked big drops of water on us.

As we began to sing, bright eyes and happy faces started to appear. The children, as usual, came out first, followed shortly by their parents. Soon all the inhabitants of the monastery were outside their rooms. Some tried to sing along with us but didn’t know all the words. The rain seemed to accompany the songs as background music, and then our tears began mingling with the rain drops as the Spirit bore witness to us that we were all truly brothers and sisters in Christ. We stopped when we could no longer see our hymnbooks through our tears.

We went up to meet the people. We left some Church pamphlets, encouraged our investigators to continue with the discussions, and invited all to attend our church meetings.

Our next stop was at the home of the American consul in the city of Porto. My companion and I had been teaching him and his family. They were rich and lived in a large home in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city. When we arrived at the gate of the estate, the servants recognized us and let us enter. Soon we were at the front door and started to sing the same songs we had just sting to the poor people in the monastery.

Our group consisted of more than twenty missionaries from several parts of the world—Brazil, Portugal, Angola, the United States, Canada, Paraguay, and Colombia. We had barely started the second verse of our first song when the door opened. Dozens of people came outside and started to sing with us. They were all diplomatic representatives of several countries who had gathered there to commemorate Christmas. We soon saw in their faces the same tears and smiles we had seen in the faces of the poor people living in that abandoned monastery.

When we finished singing, the wife of the consul said, “We were gathered here with everything to make us happy; nevertheless, we felt that something was missing. It was then that you came, bringing the Christmas spirit of Jesus Christ; now our Christmas is complete.”

We were invited in, and each missionary, in his own language, bore testimony to the diplomats from his country. As in the monastery, we left pamphlets and invited them to hear the discussions and attend church.

That Christmas night, we learned that sharing sacred songs and personal testimony was the best present that anyone, rich or poor, of any nation or faith, could receive. That night, those gifts without price brought the Spirit of the Lord into our hearts—the most priceless gift of all.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann