It was 1963, and I was serving as a full-time missionary in the Argentina North Mission. Ten elders and my companion and I served in three small branches in Mendoza.
December arrived and with it Christmas! It was my first Christmas in the mission field. We had great hopes as we all made our plans for Christmas Eve. The elders hired a man to drive us around in his four-wheeled cart, pulled by two horses. We planned to stop on street corners where lots of people would be rushing by to make their last-minute purchases.
When it was time to leave, the 12 of us climbed into the cart and sat with our feet hanging over the sides and back. The driver slowly guided the cart. We stopped every four or five blocks at the corners we had chosen. Our group then got out and formed a semicircle, sisters in front and elders behind. We opened our hymnbooks and let our voices fill the night air, time and again, with Christmas carols.
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” Men and women, teenagers and children, stopped to listen, caught up in the spirit of Christmas. Many of them looked surprised, as if they were remembering the real event they were getting ready to celebrate.
When the cart started to head for another stop, we noticed that many of the listeners were following us. Each time there were more and more. Through my tears, I could see their smiling faces. What joy we felt! We received many referrals and contacts, as we had hoped we would.
The crowd asked us to sing “Joy to the World” (Hymns, no. 201) again. As we sang they cried, touched by the Spirit on that unforgettable Christmas Eve.
After more than 40 years, my heart still overflows with gratitude as I remember my first Christmas as a missionary. I thank my Heavenly Father for the gift of His Son. And I thank Him for the knowledge that there is indeed “joy to the world,” for “the Lord is come!”
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Illustration by Jay Bryant Ward