Brian and I have just returned from serving a mission for the Church in the Spain Barcelona Mission. We began our service in August of 2022. We planned on serving for one year, but early in our service, we realized that time was going by too fast! So, we decided to stay a little longer. You don’t hear of 15-month missions very often, but that’s how long our mission was, and we learned that senior missionaries can do things like that - and it was perfect for us. For the last two Christmas seasons in Barcelona, we have watched as Christmas lights are hung all over the city. Every shopping area, whether it’s a large avenue or a narrow street, has lights draped across overhead, making tunnels of glittering light for cars and pedestrians to pass through.
For weeks before the lights are lit, we watch in anticipation as more and more lights are hung around the city. I remember wondering, the first year we were there,” When are they going to turn these lights on?” Finally, on the last Friday of November, the lights were lit, and it was beautiful! We made sure both years we were in Barcelona, to take a special night to walk around the city and take it all in.
I love how lights are a part of Christmas, symbolizing the star that appeared to herald the birth of the baby Jesus. Three Kings Day, on January 6th, is also a big celebration in Spain, and there are parades with floats for each of the three kings. Following the light of the Christmas Star is the way that these Kings found the child Jesus. A star is a small light in the darkness. But the Christmas Star, that bright light in the first Christmas sky, was also a symbol of the glimmer of light and understanding and hope that Jesus Christ was bringing into the world. That light would grow brighter and brighter with Jesus’ perfect example, His teachings, and, ultimately, his incomprehensible Atoning sacrifice, the death he suffered for each of us, and, finally, His glorious resurrection.
Isaiah spoke of that day: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Jesus described himself as a bringer of light in darkness. He said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12) and “… I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” (D&C 6:21)
When we try to follow Jesus, we too can reflect the light of the Savior. He told us: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
I learned more about the Light of Christ on my mission.
Our mission leaders changed last summer, and so we got to serve under two different mission presidents and their wives, all of whom clearly radiated the light of Christ through the Christ-like characteristics they had developed. Among many other wonderful characteristics, I think of one as a masterful teacher, another as an exceptionally loving caregiver, another as wonderfully generous and happy, and another as tireless and hard-working. I learned so clearly that there is a place for us all, with our individual talents, to serve others and that our talents get magnified in beautiful ways as we follow our Savior and try to help in His work.
We also served with amazing senior missionaries – there were 26 at one point in our mission! Again, each had their own talents and personalities and ability to speak the language. But all knew the language of love, and all had a profound commitment to the Savior and a desire to serve him in whatever way was needed. Some came to the mission, thinking they would have one assignment, but, under the inspiration of the mission president, ended up with a different assignment, and many of us had multiple responsibilities! But all were so willing to serve - and I am a witness of the Light of Christ shining through their consecrated and loving service, and miracles happening within their areas of stewardship. One is assigned to a town where there were only three members and has helped it grow to a congregation of as many as twenty and recently had their first convert baptism in 25 years. One began their mission with only 13 in attendance in the branch – there were sixty in attendance on the last Sunday of their mission (many were friends they had made, not necessarily members of the church, that came to say goodbye – such was their impact in that town). We need more senior missionaries! If anyone wants to serve in Barcelona, let us know – there are opportunities available right now, and we can make it happen!
Our favorite part of the mission was witnessing the Light of Christ in the countenances of the young missionaries with whom we served. Because our assignment was in the mission office, we got to meet and know them all. They are not perfect but are so, so good! At one point in my mission, I was particularly impressed with how happy the missionaries were – they just radiated happiness! I couldn’t believe that everyone wasn’t attracted to them like moths to a flame! As I pondered this, I realized - they worked hard and were so obedient – this was obviously the key to their happiness! I commented on this observation to one of the young elders, that their hard work and obedience made them happy. He agreed but gave me an additional ingredient crucial to their happiness – being selfless. So, so wise, right? I learned from their examples all the time and it was a magic formula that we all can learn from. Working hard and being obedient AND selfless made them happy! Another young missionary taught me this another day – a day when we got to visit in the office with missionaries who were leaving for home the next morning. Here is what I wrote in my journal that day: “What a bunch of good, good missionaries! An example of that goodness was when Elder Thomas was talking about his birthday, which was yesterday. Hermana Gamino’s birthday was yesterday, too. Elder Thomas talked about being
busy all day teaching and trying to contact people. That night they had dinner at a member’s home. After having a meal and a wonderful visit, they were getting ready to leave, and all of a sudden the lights went off and a birthday cake appeared and he thought, “How nice! They are celebrating somebody’s birthday.” He had forgotten it was his own birthday! He had truly lost himself in the work. He said he realized that that was the true gift and happiness on his birthday, to forget himself. Hermana Gamino teared up at his story - she had felt that spirit on her birthday, too.” I saw this selfless service over and over again. It was beautiful and inspiring to witness. These young missionaries just glowed with the light of Christ, and it was a privilege to serve with them.
Most profoundly, we witnessed the Light of Christ grow in those we saw join the Church and progress over the 15 months we lived in our ward in Barcelona. I testify that choosing to follow Christ and embracing His Gospel works! We saw 31 people (not including eight-year-old baptisms) join the Church while we were there. And we saw how the light of Christ and embracing His Gospel changes lives. One man had immigrated to Spain from Peru. He attended church at the invitation of the missionaries, and you could tell that his situation was rough – he didn’t smell good, and his clothes were dirty – it was apparent that he was living on the streets. He kept coming to church and he studied and soaked up the information he was taught by the missionaries and chose to be baptized. Now, about a year later, you would not recognize him as the man we first met. He works and attends classes and rents a room in the ward and is clean and handsome and serves an elderly man in the ward, improving the condition of this elderly man’s life. He has a beautiful girlfriend and many other friends in the ward. He is the Ward Mission Leader and actively serves with the friends of the missionaries and newly baptized members. He conscientiously helps plan and conduct ward baptism services. The light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has completely changed him. He allowed it to shine in his life, and now it radiates through him. He is just one example of how we witnessed the Gospel Light change those who embrace its teachings.
Preparing to speak to you today, I reread the talk I gave before leaving on my mission. In that talk, I listed the reasons that I wanted to serve. It’s so interesting because in many ways my mission was not what I anticipated – of course!
I said that I wanted to share the peace and comfort of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those open to receiving it. I wanted to share the beauty of our Heavenly Father’s plan. I wanted to share the blessings of making covenants with Heavenly Father. But I didn’t directly have the opportunity to teach anyone – I couldn’t communicate with them well enough! Often my contribution to a conversation was just to smile and nod my head like a bobblehead toy.
Hopefully, I helped to bring someone else to a greater knowledge of the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of Heavenly Father’s plan for His children. But mostly, I think my mission blessed me, helping me to better understand my Heavenly Father’s plan for me, His love for me, and the reality of the light of our Savior Jesus Christ.
I love how the Book of Mormon draws us closer to the Savior through its teachings of Him. And I love this scripture from the Book of Mormon. – it so simply helps to explain how we can recognize the light of Christ, His Spirit: “For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.” (Moroni 7:16-19)
This scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants describes beautifully the growth that comes to our lives, and the potential that we have, from following the teachings of Jesus: “That which is of God is a light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (D&C 50:24)
I love the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
May we all recognize and reach for the Light of the Savior, and have it grow brighter and brighter within us, dispelling the darkness of the world around us. I hope you can remember this truth as you enjoy the lights this Christmas season.
I testify that Heavenly Father is real and loves each of us, His children. I testify that Jesus Christ is God’s son and that He atoned for our sins, died for each of us, was resurrected, and lives today, guiding his Church through our inspired Prophet and other leaders. Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restored church of Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon is the word of God written for us to bring us closer to Jesus Christ. I am so grateful to have been able to serve as a full-time missionary and wear His name daily. It was a great privilege.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.