Because of how spread out our mission is, we don't all get together for a Christmas devotional. Instead, President and Sister Baird travel to each zone and meet with the missionaries there. I thought parents would like to know what happens at that time.
The event begins by missionaries picking up packages and mail that has recently come for them. President and Sister Baird also try to make sure that each missionary gets something for Christmas. Some of our missionaries come from families where sending gifts for Christmas is beyond their means, especially when postage is so high from foreign countries. In addition, Christmas is not a big holiday in Asia, and missionaries who come from families who are not yet LDS may not get much from their families.
The missionaries gather their items without opening them, and put them in another room with their backpacks. They are asked to remove their shoes and leave them lined up in the cultural hall. Then they go into the chapel and enjoy a wonderful program of music and sharing. We have so many talented missionaries who love to share their gifts of music. Each program in the five zones was unique and wonderful. President and Sister Baird finish the program on a high note with talks that remind us again of what Christmas is really all about.
Missionaries, now filled with the spirit of Christ and Christmas, file back into the cultural hall to put on their shoes. Each pair has a bag of goodies in them, and each pair has been shined. I had wondered where President and Sister Baird were during the early part of the program. They didn't come into the chapel until time to share their talks.
At a staff meeting the following Monday following the Zone Christmas Devotionals, someone mentioned to President and Sister Baird how thoughtful it was of them to shine all of our shoes. We were amazed to think that they had shined over 100 pairs of shoes in the past few days.
But here is President Baird's touching response. He said that shining those shoes was a very sacred experience for them. He quoted the scripture from Romans 10:15 – “And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” He then told us that as they shine the shoes, they can’t tell exactly whose shoes are whose, but they can certainly tell if someone has been on their mission for quite a while. And they can tell who uses his shoes to brake on his bike.
He told us about one pair of shoes in Kanazawa, where even as they shined the shoes, there was a snowstorm blowing down. It is so cold and wet there in that whole zone. But he couldn’t finish. President Baird can be very energetic in his speech, and very powerful. But he also has a very soft, caring heart, and it isn’t uncommon for him to have to stop speaking until he gains composure. Finally we learned that this pair of shoes were so worn that he could put his four fingers out the side near the sole, and there was a big hole in the bottom, too. He then went on to tell us that last year, there were three missionaries who had frost bite, but who had just kept going, just kept working, even with inadequate footwear. It was very touching. And we are working to find out who that elder is and make sure he gets adequate footwear.
One wonderful missionary in our mission asked Sister Baird if she could open her gifts before Christmas. Sister Baird said she should wait until Christmas. This missionary told Sister Baird that she had never had a Christmas gift before. In the little town she comes from, the people don't celebrate Christmas.
Seated from left: Whitney Baird, President and Sister Baird, Sister Hunt and Sister Fujisawa
Standing: Elders Ito, Sanderson, Hernandez, Perkins, Hara, Parra, Gish, Beyeler,
Matsunaga, Ellsworth, Yoshizawa, and Prestwich