When I was a missionary in Germany for my first Christmas, I had only been in the country about a month, and I was trying to be the best missionary I could be. I decided that calling home on Christmas might make me too homesick, so I wrote to my parents and told them my decision to not call home for Christmas. Selfish, stupid girl.
That Christmas was the worst Christmas of my life. Not only was I far from home for the first time ever, but my companion and I were living in a small trailer parked at a member’s home. There had been such a large influx of missionaries all at once that they had trouble finding enough apartments, so this was the best they could do for a time.
(I’m glad I found this picture. In my memories, it was a silver trailer. Funny.)
It was cold and damp. We had to go inside the members’ house to use the bathroom and kitchen. We would cook our little rice and sauce and maybe corn and eat there in the kitchen when the family wasn’t using the kitchen, and then go back to the cold trailer. We tried to stay out of the way of the family.
Here I am in my area, trying to get warm by the “fire”. You can see my “dresser” or my blue suitcase in the background. We tried to make light of our situation. We were both new in the area, so neither of us knew anyone. My sweet companion, Sister Thunell, was great. When our situation looked bleak, she would say, “Things will be SO much better when we get an apartment and have a real area. It’s not always like this, I promise.”
(All six of the missionaries at the church)
I was excited to be in Germany for Christmas, so I tried to keep a good attitude.
On Christmas eve, which is the big holiday in Germany, we didn’t have any appointments. No one from the ward had invited us over for dinner, and the host family didn’t invite us to join them. We tracted and street contacted for as long as we could on Christmas eve, but when all the shops closed and the people went home, there was not much more we could do. We went to the bus stop to go home. Oh, busses don’t run on the regular schedule on Christmas eve. When we finally got home, we were tired and dejected. We went inside the house and cooked our little packaged meal, it was probably rice and Maagi sauce, and my companion asked if she could use the phone to call her family. I sat by as she talked to her family and tried not to cry. The family had all gathered in the living room and they did not invite us to join them. We walked by and said Merry Christmas to them and tried to stay out of their way.
They were not trying to be hurtful, but they did not want us there. They had offered to let the missionaries stay in their trailer, but had assumed that it would only be for a few weeks. They wanted their married daughter and son to be able to stay in the trailer for Christmas, and were therefore not pleased that we were still there. I was very sorry that I had told my parents I would not call. And I didn’t think I could just call them without having it arranged and having not bought a phone card or anything. Oh, I was so stupid.
Never once did I think how much that phone call meant to my mom. I was only thinking of myself at the time, trying to be a good missionary. And since our communication took about 10-12 days for a letter to get home, they didn’t have the time to dispute my decision. How stupid I was. Yes, I survived without that phone call home, but at what cost? My family didn’t get to hear from me, and I didn’t get the boost of calling and hearing that they loved me. Instead, I went back to that silly trailer and cried. As the mother of a missionary, I now realize how important that phone call is. We want to make sure our child is happy and healthy and being treated right for Christmas.
Back to the story in Germany, that night we had to call in to our District leader and check in, as we did each evening. I guess he asked how our Christmas Eve was and my companion told him it was pretty bleak. The next day, on Christmas day, I think we might have had a lunch appointment. When we saw the Elders they told us that they had had two appointments the night before and two for Christmas day. They were so stuffed and full, they could barely move. We felt very sorry for ourselves. I guess everyone in the ward had assumed we would be spending the holidays with the family where we were staying, and so they hadn’t bothered to invite us. Since we were new and didn’t know very many members, we didn’t invite ourselves anywhere.
(Christmas pageant at the church. I honestly do not remember this, but I have a picture, so I must have been there.)
In our letters to the president that week we probably both sounded pitiful. Christmas for us had not been a joyous experience. We celebrated our Saviour’s birth in private, with scripture reading and prayer. But a few days later, we got a call from the mission president. He said, “Sisters, pack your things. You’ll be staying with us in the mission home until we can get this sorted out.” We felt like we were being sent to the principal’s office. We had no idea what was going on, why we were being pulled out of the trailer. We did not know that the family had called the president in anger and asked why the sister missionaries were still there. No wonder we weren’t invited in to the family celebration. They wanted that space for their family.
I try to not harbor ill feelings toward that family. They tried to offer up a space for the missionaries, but it didn’t work for them. I don’t think they were trying to make us feel unwanted. But, no, we don’t send Christmas cards or keep in touch or anything.
For the next three weeks, the two of us lived in the president’s home. We still traveled to our area to try to do missionary work, but at the end of the day we would take the train back to Duessldorf to stay with the president and his family. Even though it was a bit awkward, we felt welcome there. We even were allowed to use the kitchen and bake.
Even when I nearly burned down the house, and at the very least, nearly burned my suitcase by setting it to close to the heater at night,
we still felt loved. We forged a special friendship with our mission president and his family, and got to experience living in the mission home, which not very many missionaries get to do.
In January, they found us an apartment in Essen. A nice apartment, by missionary standards. It had previously housed a missionary couple, above a member’s house.
I finally felt like my mission had begun. We had our own kitchen and bathroom! What a blessing! (The president did tell us that we had nearly been transferred OUT of the mission, that they really wanted sisters in a neighboring mission, and if they hadn’t found us an apartment, that might have been our fate. I hope he was kidding.)
I was only there about three weeks before being transferred.
That Christmas was one of those “builds character” experiences for me. When I had my second Christmas in Germany, it was SO much more fun, with member appointments and presents AND a phone call home. I’m glad I got to experience it both ways.
As I get to skype with my son this Christmas, I feel so lucky. So blessed to know that he is taken care of, that his ward gave all the missionaries a big box of food and presents. I know that he is working hard on his mission and that I get to call him and tell him how much I love him.
Merry Christmas to all of you missionary families out there.