You could call Nyssa, Oregon, a small town. Really small. Population? 2,850. Total traffic lights? One.
But when it comes to giving service at Christmas, seminary students in the area do it up big. Really big.
Every year, LDS teens from Nyssa and the surrounding towns of Parma, Adrian, and Vale put on a live Nativity scene for their community. Mary and Joseph arrive by horse at a life-sized manger of hay built in the yard of the seminary building. Adoring shepherds come with their sheep to the manger, and Wise Men bring gifts as a 60-member choir sings carols nearby.
Performance of the Nativity scene culminates Christmas Week, during which seminary students give all kinds of service on the last several days of school before Christmas—singing at nursing homes, doing small acts of kindness for each other, and gathering food and secretly delivering it to front porches of needy families. And on one day called Shepherd Day, they talk about what gifts they can personally give to the Savior.
Putting so much effort into service during this already busy season might sound like a lot of work, but teens here say they love it. “It really does help all of us bring the Savior into the holiday season,” says Chantelle Hiatt, 17. “And doing it together makes it a lot more fun and meaningful.”
Seventeen-year-old Natalie Noble agrees. “Christmas Week is my favorite. Doing so much service helps us grow closer together as a class and closer with the community.”
The seminary students say that putting on the Nativity scene is the best part of the week. Their goal in reenacting the Nativity is to bring others closer to the Savior, which is why they are willing to put in hours of practice time and brave sub-zero temperatures in order to perform it. “I was freezing to death, but I was still happy that I was doing something to make a difference in someone’s life,” says Mike Kelly, 16. “I was willing to stay out there to do that.”
But performing the Nativity scene may have the greatest impact in the lives of the performers themselves. “I think it does change the lives of other people, but not only that, it changes our lives,” says Garrett Lamb, 18.
On these pages, seminary students share how they felt as they reenacted one of the most significant and spiritual events in the history of the world, the Nativity of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
“When I learned I was going to be Mary, I didn’t feel worthy. Just having a baby must be precious, but this baby is the Savior, the person who saved the world. What an honor it was to act the part of His mother.”
—Timber Amy, 17
“Playing Joseph was out of my character because I thought I was ‘too cool.’ But I found myself enjoying it and really started to feel the Spirit. When you’re there, you realize Christ’s birth is such a significant thing in the history of the world, and it really touches you.”
—Wil Bake, 16
“It’s so humbling to put yourself in the position of being a shepherd—to think that you’re kneeling there with Mary and Joseph—especially when Mary lets you hold the baby. It’s such a spiritual experience to think about all this baby did for the entire world.”
—Kori Escujuri, 17
“I thought to myself, What would I be doing right now if I were really there as one of the Wise Men? I think that I’d be bawling my eyes out and just be so happy to be there.”
—Jared Pett, 16
“When you come to the manger, you feel the Spirit and you really remember why we have Christmas, to remember the Savior.”
—Amy Trujillo, 17
“Being in the choir makes you feel like the herald angels singing praises to Him.”
—Janice Beck, 16
“I’ve had people say to me, ‘You’re gonna freeze—why are you doing this?’ But when you think about the words of the songs, they’re all about the Savior. And how can you even think about the cold when you’re singing about Him?”
—Megan Zimmerman, 15
“When nonmembers come, they seem a little awkward at first, but then they start to get into it. They leave with a tear on their cheek. It’s fun to see their expressions and to watch people leave with a better feeling of Christmas.”
—Jennie Bates, 17
“Even if you have the worst voice in the world, for some reason you can’t even tell when you’re out there. The Lord knows we’re grateful and that we do the things we do to thank Him for His sacrifice.”
—Tara Skeen, 17
“When we sing of Christ and His birth, it’s like praising Him and the life He led and the example He set for us. It’s our way of showing our love for Him.”
—Marti Romans, 18
by Amy Trujillo
“As part of Christmas Week, today is Shepherd Day,” began Brother Cobb in our Nyssa seminary class. “We’re going to pretend we’re the shepherds that went and saw the baby Jesus. We want to give Him something, but we don’t have worldly wealth. What will we give Him?”
After a moment, Angela spoke up. She talked about how she’d pay more attention to what the Lord tried to tell her. We were pretty touched; Brother Cobb produced a box of tissues.
The discussion continued around the room. Time, service, love—these would be given to the Savior. Finally, I spoke up. I said the Savior gave His life for me, and that’s the greatest gift of all. I could never repay Him, but my gift would be to obey and follow Him. Then I shared this poem:
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,—
Yet what I can I give Him, give my heart.
(Christina Rossetti, “My Gift”)