Elder Jensen was not a good missionary. He knew and I knew it. He wasn’t terrible, he just wasn’t very good. He kept most of the rules most of the time, and never did anything which was out and out sinful. He just didn’t want to be in Finland. That, in and of itself, didn’t make him a bad missionary. Not many people voluntarily go to Finland in the middle of winter. Where we were, just south of the Arctic Circle, the sun rose at 11:00 a.m. and set at 2:00 p.m. The language was hard and the people weren’t interested in religion. They were interested in cross-country skiing, ski-jumping and vodka, and not in that order.
So when I say this was a Christmas miracle, I don’t mean the kind of miracle where Jenny, the orphan girl gets a new pair of shoes, or where a mysterious stranger appears out of nowhere to change your tire, so you can make it to Christmas dinner. This was something else. This was a true Christmas miracle, the type of miracle where someone’s life was irrevocably changed as they were literally transformed before me.
We were going through the motions. Elder Jensen had been out of the MTC for about a year, while I had been out for six months. I made sure that we went out every day and knocked on doors and started conversations with strangers on the street. But his heart wasn’t in it. His heart was back in Utah, in some cow town I could never remember the name of. I don’t remember her name either. Something like Mary Kate or Mary Beth. What I do remember is that he was very tall, about six foot five, and she was very short, about five foot nothing.
He talked about two things only: Mary What’s-Her-Name, and basketball. Apparently, Mary was the most wonderful girl in the world. She was beautiful, funny, spiritual, creative, a good cook and a good kisser. Her only flaw was that she was small, and therefore, the five sons they were planning to have would not be tall enough to get to the NBA. He was willing to overlook this flaw, because, you see, he was in love.
He showed me her picture. She was cute, but not Helen of Troy cute. He would read passages of her letters to me. She came across as who she was, a young, naïve girl. She wrote page after page of her undying love for her missionary, and speculated on the wonderful life they would live together. It was as syrupy as you can imagine.
Of course, she didn’t realize that she was killing any chance of him becoming a good missionary. He didn’t have any time to work. His life revolved around getting the mail and talking about getting the mail.
Also, we played a lot of basketball. I can’t deny that it was kind of fun to be with Elder Jensen. He was the senior companion, so I didn’t feel too guilty. I read my scriptures and studied the language. But really, we were just killing time.
Christmas was coming and it was getting darker and colder. Elder Jensen had just passed the half-way point of his mission, the “Hump Day.” He constantly reminded me that next Christmas he would be with Mary. This began to get old.
The miracle started, as miracles often do, with a traumatic event. Think back on some of the more memorable miracles and how they started: Lazarus dying, a terrible storm on the Sea of Galilee. This was worse than that. You see, suddenly, Mary’s letters stopped.
At first, it was not a problem. A day or two was fine. She had missed days before. Sometimes the mail came in bunches. But a day turned into a week, then two, and then three. Elder Jensen was going out of his mind. We stopped working altogether. I think we even stopped playing basketball. We went to the mailbox at least five times a day. All he did was write letters to her and ask me what I thought was happening.
This was not a mystery. It is the oldest tale in the mission field. I knew what had happened. After two weeks, I told him what I thought had happened. She met someone else. Of course he got angry at me. She was not “like that.” So I kept my mouth shut and we did nothing. Christmas was getting closer and I started to get depressed. I got him out of the apartment a few times to knock on some doors, but I was hoping for a transfer.
Then it came. The letter. The unthinkable had happened. Mary What’s-Her-Name had met someone else, a returned missionary. She wrote that although she had feelings for Elder Jensen, these feelings were mere infatuation and puppy love. She now knew what true love was. She was sorry, but knew it was for the best.
Elder Jensen was devastated. Some days he was angry and depressed. Other days he switched it up and was depressed and angry. One day he had the epiphany that all girls are evil and could not be trusted. He had turned into a walking cliché.
I tried to keep his spirits up. We even had a “funeral” for his love. We burned her picture and flushed the ashes down the toilet. It didn’t help. Christmas was only a few days away. I hadn’t received any gifts, likely because packages took a long time to get to us. I was anticipating the darkest, coldest, most depressing Christmas of my life.
You can’t predict miracles, and I sure didn’t see this one coming. Three or four days before Christmas we spoke to a woman on the street who agreed that we could come by her home and give her a Christmas message. The next day we knocked on her door and were invited inside. To be honest, I don’t remember much about her. She was young, single, and was probably more interested in American boys than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I started to talk about Christmas and the true meaning behind the season. I wasn’t even sure if Elder Jensen was paying attention. I looked over at him and he had his bible opened to Luke. He asked if he could read some passages to her. He read her the story of the first Christmas. It was a story we had all heard a hundred times before: Mary, the inn, the manger, and the shepherds. But something was different this time.
As I watched Elder Jensen read it, I could tell that it was really affecting him. His voice started to shake and he started to tear up. He finished reading and closed the book. He looked at the young woman and bore his testimony. He talked about a Father in heaven who loved him and the fact that he sent his perfect son into an imperfect world. He talked about the Savior’s lowly birth, glorious life and his incredible sacrifice. He spoke of his gratitude for the atonement and the gift of eternal life.
People talk about having Christ in their countenance. Before that day, I never really knew what that meant. But as Elder Jensen continued speaking, his face changed. His eyes came alive and his skin glowed. Although he looked like the same person, he also looked like a different person. Even now, twenty years later, it is difficult to find the words to explain what happened. Saying that his face was “literally shining” sounds wrong, except it was true.
From that day forward, he was on fire, a changed man. Something in those scriptures had touched him to his soul. He was a disciple of Christ on a mission to share the good news. We worked hard, knocking on doors, preaching in the street and bearing our testimonies. It was energizing to be around him.
Don’t get me wrong, he was still the same person. We had fun. He still loved basketball and he still missed his girlfriend. But even though he was the same person, he was a totally different person, if that makes any sense. His priorities had shifted and he knew what was really important.
I’d like to say that we went on to baptize hundreds of people. We didn’t. We were together for another month until transfers split us apart. I heard through the mission grapevine that he was able to baptize a few families. I had some modest success as well.
I saw him the next fall, when he had a month or two left in the mission field. I was pleased to say that his face had not changed. He still shone with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He radiated joy, hope and good will. And if that isn’t a Christmas miracle, I don’t know what is.
You don’t need these last two paragraphs, but I do like the last sentence.
What I liked best: That it’s the Christmas story from the Bible that creates the Christmas miracle. I also like your clever, conversational style of narrative, and that it’s not your usual Christmas miracle.
Magazine ready? Yes.