On the 2nd Day of Christmas Past, some history to enhance Light the World – “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”
Question: While Elder Groberg was on his mission in Tonga, what did he learn from one of his missionary companions?
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“The Gift of Service”
By Elder John H. Groberg
“December is warm in Tonga, where I spent several Christmases as a young missionary in the 1950s. Despite the hot, humid weather, the Christmas spirit is beautiful. What a blessing it is when people think more about others and less about themselves!
There was not a lot of physical gift giving in Tonga, as there were not a lot of things to give. People were poor in terms of worldly possessions, but they gave marvelous gifts of love, service, and kindness. During the warm evenings around Christmas, many singing groups and bands went around serenading. Even with the oppressive heat the feeling of peace and good cheer seemed to permeate everything.
A few months before Christmas one year we had been asked to raise £500 so we could start building a new brick chapel in Pangai. We made an assessment of £50 each to ten separate families, with the request that they have the money by January 1. Most of the families had completed their allotment, but one older couple was still struggling. They were a faithful grandparent couple whose children were all married and gone.
The grandfather originally had some sources in mind where he could get the money, but one by one those sources failed, and he realized he would need to go to his plantation on another island and make copra to sell. (Copra is used commercially for soaps and oils.) Making copra involved gathering coconuts, cutting them open, extracting the meat, drying it in the sun, and selling it to the mataka (copra board) to get needed money. He was determined to meet the January 1 deadline, so two weeks before Christmas he left for his plantation.
Shortly after he left, a nine-year-old granddaughter came from Tongatapu to spend the holidays. Her arrival was unannounced but welcome by her grandmother.
The grandmother and her granddaughter had a good time together, but a few days before Christmas the granddaughter became very ill with a high fever. Even though her grandmother put her to bed and cared for her well, the fever seemed to get worse. The grandmother asked my companion and me to administer to the girl, which we did. I felt she would be all right and we continued about our other activities.
The day before Christmas, one of the missionary schoolteachers and I visited several families to wish them the season’s best. As we concluded our visits, I asked my companion where else he thought we should go that Christmas Eve. He replied, “I’ve heard that the granddaughter is still doing poorly and that the grandfather has not yet returned. I’m sure the grandmother is very tired from the constant care she has been giving her granddaughter. Why don’t we go to her house and volunteer to watch her granddaughter tonight and let her get some rest?”
What a great idea! I thought. Why don’t I think of things like that?
It was early evening when we arrived at the grandmother’s house and explained what we proposed to do. Seldom have I seen more grateful eyes or felt more sincere appreciation. The grandmother looked at us a long time, probably studying our seriousness, and then said, “She is very ill. I have been up day and night for the last three days. I am very tired, and I’m not sure I can make it another night. Thank you. Thank you! I have been using this cloth and bowl of water to cool her brow and this woven fan to give her some air movement. She has not talked at all the last few days, only moaned. I’m not sure if she will get well or not. Maybe I should try to stay up and help.”
My companion said, “No, you go and rest. Kolipoki (my Tongan name) and I will fan her and cool her forehead, and she will be all right. Now run along and sleep.” She looked at us again for a long time, then left. I imagine she was asleep the second she got to her room.
We were on the front veranda of the house, where it was a little cooler than inside. We immediately started fanning the granddaughter and cooling her forehead with the wet cloth. She seemed in a bad way. Her breathing was strange, her fever was high, her eyes were closed, and her moans were pathetic. We devised a system whereby one would hold the wet cloth and the other would fan the air through it to get some cool air moving around the girl’s mouth and head.
It doesn’t sound like much work, but the anxiety of the situation, the sultry evening, and the exertion to get water, rinse the cloth, and constantly wave the fan caused us both to tire quickly. I appreciated the grandmother and her constant care more than ever.
At around 11:00pm we realized we must do something different to make it through the night, as we were both very tired. My companion again came up with an idea. “Why don’t we take turns?” he said. “You sleep for an hour while I care for her, then I’ll wake you and you care for her an hour while I sleep, then you wake me, and so on. At least we’ll get through the night that way.”
“Fine,” I said. “Who should start?”
“I’ll start,” he replied. “You rest first.” So, I lay down and he started caring for the child alone. At midnight, he woke me and I fanned with one hand and sponged her forehead with the other until 1:00am when I woke him. He woke me at 2 and I, in turn, woke him at 3. I knew he would wake me for my next turn at 4:00. Even though I was very tired, I knew this was fair.
The next thing I knew, sunlight was streaming into my eyes. I awakened, jumped up, and said, “What time is it?”
“It’s 6:00,” my companion replied.
“6:00! You were supposed to get me up at 4! Why didn’t you wake me?” I asked.
He had a broad smile on his face which was intensified by the bright rays of the early morning sun. That smile seemed to come from deep within his soul; it encompassed his whole being as he replied, “Oh, you looked so tired. I decided to let you sleep. It’s my present to you. Merry Christmas!”
I couldn’t say anything. I just looked at him in admiration and wondered, Why don’t I think of things like that? My companion is a great man. God loves him. He stayed up for me. Why am I so weak? I thought of the Savior coming to his sleeping disciples and asking, “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) The Savior stayed up most of the night performing the greatest work of love in the world while those close to him slept. Yet, as he returned and saw them sleeping again, he merely looked at them and quietly said, “Sleep on.”
I felt ashamed, yet I also felt happy as I saw the joy in my companion’s face. His radiant smile was almost angelic.
Sometime during those early morning hours, the girl’s moaning ceased and her fever broke. She stirred and opened her eyes. Although she was still very weak, we knew she would be all right. We waited until midmorning, then knocked on the door to wake the grandmother. She answered the knock quickly, possibly expecting the worst. When she came out on the porch, her granddaughter was sitting up. We were all smiles as we said in unison, “Merry Christmas!” It was good to have her and her granddaughter both feeling so much better – a wonderful way to start Christmas Day. We had many other things to do, so we left and went about our regular missionary activities.”
What’s something that could really brighten your day? Do that for someone else today.
Christmas Treasures – Stories and Reminiscences from General Authorities (1994), p. 9-11
“Light the World” is a 25 day Christ-like service celebration from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Visit Mormon.org for more information.