To get everyone in the holiday spirit during Advent, the staff of Glenmary Challenge magazine has gone back to the archives to share some of the best Christmas stories ever reported from the missions.
This first one comes from nearly 30 years ago, in the Winter 1991 edition of the magazine. Father Jerry Dorn (died 2014) was still a few years away from becoming Glenmary’s seventh president when he penned this story about finding a Christmas tree in the missions on Christmas Eve.
By Father Jerry Dorn
Glenmary Challenge, Winter 1991
As pastor of three counties with four mission churches, getting ready to celebrate the birthday of Christ is usually frantic. There is always the possibility of running a little behind schedule. This was the case last year in our small communities in southeastern Arkansas.
Parishioners had thought of most things that needed to be done — getting the churches cleaned, gathering tables for the parties, and preparing for the annual Christmas play. Late in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I realized I had not bought a tree for the rectory!
Hurriedly, I drove to town and stopped at a number of stores, but each had already sold its last tree. I was just about to give up my search when I spotted Chuck Harris, an old college friend. He had come home to spend the holidays with his family. I asked if he knew where I might find a tree?
“Jump in,” he said as he motioned toward his pick-up truck. In a matter of seconds, we were leaving the town limits and heading into the countryside. Soon, my friend turned on to a gravel road, canopied by ageless trees that formed a tunnel where the branches had grown together, spanning the road from above.
We had been driving for a while when we suddenly came to a farm dotted with what appeared to be a thousand beautiful Christmas trees. They circled a tiny house which we assumed was the owner’s home. No one answered our several knocks at the farmhouse door, so we left.
As we headed back down that gravel lane, we spied a well-worn old pick-up truck parked beside a small cluster of Christmas trees. Near the truck was a little shanty. My friend parked his truck and we walked toward the dilapidated farm vehicle. As we drew near, we noticed a sign placed precariously on the windshield. It read: “Welcome! Make yourself at home. A saw is in the back of this pick-up. Go out and cute the tree of your choice. Leave your money on the truck seat. The door is open.”
We quickly began inspecting the trees until we found the one that would be just right for the rectory, a beautiful little Christmas tree that we felt was far better than any we might have purchased at one of the stores in town. Once the tree was cut, my friend and I made our way back to the old truck. As I leaned inside to leave some money in payment for the tree, I was shocked at what I found. There on the front seat was strewn an odd assortment of cash, checks, and loose change. In the midst of it all was another sign. This one read: “Thanks! There is a pot of hot coffee in the shanty.”
My friend and I stood staring at each other, left speechless by what we had found. On this chilly Christmas Eve we were blessed with a very special Christmas discovery: the true meaning of Christmas — love, trust and peace — was alive and well.
After enjoying a cup of coffee, we loaded our tree and slowly made our way back to the rectory. To this day I have never met the owner of that farm or any member of his family. Whoever they are, even in their absence, they reminded us of how much the infant Jesus trusted us.