We were in a South American mission. I was the District Leader of a remote district, hours away from the mission office and any other district.
I grew up in an agnostic household and joined the church as a young adult. Having grown up as, more or less, a non-believer, I was rather down on meaningless traditions, commercialism, and the modern mix of paganism that seemed to have crept into holidays celebrating supposedly holy events.
This was my 3rd Christmas in the church and I wanted to do something with meaning instead of just decorating a pagan-like tree, exchanging presents, and gorging on food. Perhaps I thought of James 1: 27, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
I found out there was a Catholic orphanage in town, and asked the other missionaries if they’d like to do something at the orphanage. They said yes, so my companion and I went there, knocked on the front door, and asked if we could visit their children on Christmas day, show a filmstrip, sing, and maybe play games. I told the nuns who answered the door that we were “missionaries from the U.S.” I did not specifically say “Mormon” or “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”, but I assumed they read our name tags. They went back in, and in a few minutes came back to the door and said “sure”.
At the appointed time on Christmas day, us eight gringos went to the orphanage, and introduced ourselves. We showed the filmstrip (this was before the days of VHS and VCR’s) “Leon’s Truck”, which was about taking care of your body to make it last, like taking care of a truck, a “Word of Wisdom” thing. We sang a little. We played. We handed out candy.
I noticed that the nuns brought to the activity room only the kids who were old enough to play with adults or big kids. I imagined they had toddlers or infants that they hadn’t brought out. I noticed that the kids were much better behaved than the street urchins of the same ages, and of course cleaner and better dressed.
I had an idea of asking to see the infants, (what orphanage wouldn’t have infants?), but I didn’t want to impose any more on the nuns’ hospitality. I also thought about how Jesus blessed little children, and wondered if we should offer to bless the children (and the infants) but I had been taught not to solicit blessings. I didn’t know at the time that such rules-of-thumb are always susceptible to be overridden by a higher law: “except when the Spirit tells you otherwise.”
Anyway, we left with lots of warm fuzzies that made the Christmas dinner that the sisters prepared taste much better. And I didn’t feel so guilty about being a rich gringo in a poor country. It’s still my favorite Christmas. And I wish we had asked to bless the children.