Christmas Conference 1977

Newel K. Whitney Story, Kirtland, Ohio. Courtesy LDS Media Library.

It was my first Christmas away from home. Ever. I had been away for almost a year. Though the season was devoid of the usual trappings, it was filled with spiritual meaning.

The Ohio Cleveland Mission had an all-day Christmas Conference on December 29, 1977. At a stake center in Akron, on a Thursday. It was a fun and lively break from the rigors of missionary life.

I remembered recently something that happened that day that I didn’t record in my journal. In the afternoon, the missionaries were invited into the cultural hall to find tables with many boxes on them. Most of the boxes were overflowing with gifts. The families or home wards had been asked to send gifts to the missionaries, and the response was overwhelming. I still can hear the gasps.

Then I found my box. It was different—it had one card in it. It was a nice card, but in contrast to what all the others had received, it didn’t compare. I was embarrassed, but smirked and brushed it off. Having felt “left out” so many times in my young life, I didn’t let it bother me. I didn’t let it put me out. I really didn’t. Now it just makes me smile, in part because something far more memorable and important happened that day. 
That very same day—and I wrote this in my journal—our mission president, Donald Brewer, announced some history in the making: a pair of missionaries would live and serve in Kirtland, Ohio for the first time in over 130 years. A few months later, I found myself serving there and would remain there for the rest of my mission. I lived in the Newel K. Whitney store and went door to door in a town that had never been tracted by Mormon missionaries before. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
This past Wednesday, we dropped our youngest daughter off at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. In three weeks—astoundingly—she will herself be serving in the Ohio Cleveland Mission, in the Kirtland Visitors’ Center, 37 years after I was there.

It’s hard for me to imagine anything more fulfilling or more meaningful. I am deeply grateful that the Lord has brought us here. I wouldn’t trade it, not for a hundred boxes of gifts.

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