03227_000_028Her testimony shone like a light in a cavern. What was the source of her strength?
I can well remember the first time I noticed Jamie. Her long black hair was braided and pulled neatly behind her small head. Her eyes, large and soft with a brownish luster, peered timidly around the room as Sister Jones, one of the Primary presidency, led her to a seat. It was my first day as a Primary teacher in our new Ogden, Utah, ward, yet even with my jumbled thoughts about my recent marriage, new friends, and new calling, something about Jamie commanded my attention.
After we separated for classes, I became absorbed in my lesson for the Valiant A class and for a time forgot that moment of our passing. Five minutes into the lesson, however, a quiet knock sounded at the door, and Sister Jones escorted Jamie to a chair within the circle we had formed. Her long, Hispanic face gazed at the floor, glancing up only occasionally to reveal her high cheekbones and finely carved features. Her expression held a look of innocence and intelligence, which was hidden once more as her attention returned to the tiles on the floor. As the hour progressed, she became more and more involved in the activities, smiling frequently and answering questions about the prophets that we were studying. She listened with complete attention to the entire lesson, keeping her arms folded and talking only when discussion was invited.
When the other children had left for sacrament meeting, I turned from erasing the chalkboard to see her still sitting patiently, as though waiting for me to finish.
“Aren’t you going to sacrament meeting?” I asked, sitting down on the tiny chair beside her.
She smoothed the pleats of her neatly ironed dress and slowly looked up at me.
“Yes. May I go with you?” her voice sounded wistful, as though the request might displease me.
“Of course,” I replied. “I’ll help you find your parents, but we’ll have to hurry—the meeting will be starting soon.”
“My mom doesn’t come to church.”
“Oh, well, then it must be your grandma. Where is she?”
The small brown hands ceased their smoothing motions and dropped to her lap.
“No one comes with me. I just come by myself.”
“No one? Surely you have friends or relatives that bring you.”
She shook her head simply and took my hand as if to go. “May I sit with you, please?”
I smiled at the earnest little face. “Of course you may.”
She smiled, a warm expression radiating the love that small children can give spontaneously, and dragged me out the door toward the chapel.
After the meeting, the Sunday School president approached while Jamie was talking to my husband, Dave.
“I see you’ve met Jamie already. I was hoping that she would be assigned to your class.”
I pulled him farther aside. “Jamie told me that no one comes to church with her. How does she get here? Does one of the bishopric pick her up?”
He shook his head and smiled in a funny, confused way. “Nope. She just shows up on the doorstep of the chapel every Sunday, waiting for the meetings to start—and I mean every Sunday.”
As he left to attend to other business, I sat down and watched Jamie as she spoke to Dave. What motivated a child of her age to such diligent church attendance? Was it possible for a nine-year-old to possess that level of spiritual maturity? I decided to find out more about this puzzling little girl.
The week passed quickly as work and homemaking filled my time. Then it was Sunday, and my class was filing into Primary. It wasn’t until five minutes after the meeting had started that I saw Jamie, a little out of breath, slip into the back row. After class, she came up to talk as usual. Seeing her solemn expression, I couldn’t resist teasing her.
“This must be the first time you’ve ever been late to church in your life! You looked as though you had run all the way.”
She gazed up at me, taking in my comment with complete seriousness. “I’m sorry I was late. Last night, my friend invited me to sleep over, and I forgot that today was Sunday until very late. I ran home then, but I must have slept in.”
I was stunned. “You mean that you went home from your friend’s house all on your own?”
She nodded slowly, as though it had been a confession. My attitude of jesting was quickly replaced by one of love and admiration. I resolved again to find out more about Jamie’s background.
Late that Sunday afternoon I went to Jamie’s house to deliver some class preparation materials. It was a middle-aged, red brick duplex with a large oak tree shading the front lawn. A variety of toys lay on the driveway. I walked up to the screen door on the left and knocked. As the door swung open, I was overwhelmed by the smell of cigarette smoke that languished in the darkened front room. The acrid scent of beer blended with it to make my eyes water. Standing at the entrance was a large, heavyset man dressed in faded jeans and an undershirt. His face, wide and unshaven, regarded me coldly, looking first at my Primary manual, then directly into my eyes. His own were red and bloodshot, but they gazed unblinking as I stammered to say something—anything.
“Is Jamie here? I have some things to give her for class.” I thought briefly that mentioning the nature of the class might be unwise. To my surprise, however, his features softened slightly. He had apparently decided that I wasn’t a salesperson of any kind. He motioned for me to enter; so taking a deep breath, I stepped into the room.
The smoke hung about the ceiling, making my throat itch whenever I breathed. Through the haze I could distinguish a shabby brown couch and matching chair. Sitting there, playing poker on a fading lime-green coffee table, amid a pile of beer cans, were two other men and a woman. The heavy drapes were drawn closely, allowing no sunlight into the room, which was lit only by a naked bulb suspended from the ceiling.
The woman looked up at me blankly, with a puzzled expression. Though her hair was much lighter than Jamie’s, I could see features similar to Jamie’s behind the heavy lipstick and mascara. The men, dressed much like the one who had answered the door, continued their game as if I wasn’t there. I repeated my question to the woman: “Is Jamie here? I have some things from class to give her.”
She nodded slowly and shuffled out of the room, returning in a few minutes with the same empty gaze.
“She ain’t here. I think she’s out playing with a friend somewhere.”
“I see. Well, would you please give her these things? They are from a project that we did in class today.”
She took the pictures and book and placed them on the chair on top of several crumpled cans. The man standing by the door opened it for me and I emerged into the bright sunlight and sweet fall air.
As I walked home, my mind was filled with thoughts and pictures. How could that little girl have such spiritual maturity and devotion? Again and again I saw the darkness of the room contrasted with the light that shone from Jamie, like a tiny flashlight within a great cavern. Would she be able to continue attending church? How would she learn about the gospel outside of the classroom? What would motivate her to keep trying as the years passed? Then I paused as a scripture suddenly came to mind: “The Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil.” (Moro. 7:16.)
The words echoed in my mind—every man, every woman, every little girl, no matter where she lives! How brightly that light shone within Jamie, magnified to brilliance by the dark backdrop of her surroundings! I resolved to help her small light maintain its glow until it had a chance to grow and stand alone.
From then on, every week after church, Jamie spent some time at our house playing games, eating, and just talking. As time passed, we came to admire her inner strength more and more. She possessed a peace and serenity that affected everyone around her.
Then, as we were walking home one day she said, “Sandy, I want to be baptized. I’m nine years old, and it’s time for me to be baptized, but I can’t get anyone to do it.”
I was filled with an overwhelming love for her as those big dark eyes gazed up at me with unusual intensity. I gave her a big hug, and we skipped home together hand in hand, the fallen leaves of autumn crunching beneath our feet.
Jamie was baptized a few months later by one of the missionaries assigned to our area. He and his companion went through the discussions with Jamie, and her mother consented for her to be baptized. Dave and I sat on the fourth row, just behind Jamie’s mother and sister. Her mother looked different somehow—a little happier since I had seen her at home. At first, she seemed a little uncomfortable in the chapel, but the spirit of the meeting seemed to put her at ease. When Jamie came out dressed in white, my heart swelled with love and wonder. She looked beautiful and pure, walking down the aisle with her older sister. She smiled as she passed us, the happy smile of a nine-year-old, the loveliness of a daughter of God.
As the missionaries gave talks about faith and obedience, I watched her, listening intently as always, and knew that those words were being taught by the Spirit even as the elders spoke. Then it was time to go to the font. Jamie didn’t hesitate as she stepped into the water. A thrill went through me, and the words of Christ, when he said, “Suffer [the] little children to come unto me” (Luke 18:16) took on new meaning as I watched a little one do exactly that. She was then confirmed, and I was grateful to hear an inspired priesthood bearer ask Heavenly Father to bless her family to support her as a Church member. I said “amen” to his prayer with particular fervor, knowing that Jamie now had a companion to guide her throughout her life in any circumstance. With the aid of the Holy Ghost, her tiny light will indeed grow, and she will know great joy in the kingdom of heaven.