Walking out of the State Department Store to hail a taxi on Peace Avenue, I felt the blast of the sub-zero Mongolian air freeze my cheeks. I had hurriedly made a shopping trip to search for an acceptable gift for my husband. The only indication of Christmas in the entire store was a small plastic wreath with colored lights flashing to the music of "Joy to the World."
The cold air crept into the soles of my boots as I waited for a taxi. Students were walking home from school and cars were rushing by, completely oblivious to the significance of the holiest of holidays. My heart felt as cold as the air and I remember asking myself, "Doesn't anyone know today is Christmas Eve?"
Having begun our mission to Mongolia in the spring of 1994, this was our first Christmas away from home. The Church was very new with just one small branch. There had been a revival of Buddhism with the collapse of communism in the late 1980s; there were very few Christians in the country, and they weren't looked upon kindly by most.
The skies were darkening as I stepped into the taxi — sad, lonely and homesick. Upon arrival, I climbed the five flights of stairs to our apartment, wondering what tomorrow would bring. What would Christmas Day be like without family? Would my husband approve of his gift — a gold Mongolian wedding band? What gift had my husband found for me?
As I opened the door, I saw before me a Christmas tree of sorts. The members of our family home evening group had taped twisted, green crepe paper in the shape of a Christmas tree on our living room wall. I then remembered I already had received many gifts — Munkhtsetseg, Bayrasaikhan, Enkhtuvshin and his family, Soyolmaa, Tsetsgee ... the list seemed endless.
These were my new Mongolian brothers and sisters. As the shepherds of old, they had come searching for the Savior. Within the past year, they had received the greatest gift of all — the gospel of Jesus Christ, making it possible for them to live with Heavenly Father again. Their hearts were filled with joy at the prospect of celebrating their first Christmas.
Christmas Day brought many members knocking on our door, offering humble gifts and expressions of love for our willingness to share the gospel with them. I observed my Mongolian friends loving and living the example of our Savior.
Many in Mongolia did know it was Christmas. My heart was warm again.