Things More Precious

Caridad peeped out between the pieces of cardboard that mended the broken window in the one-room house. The lady missionaries had said that they would return mañana por la tarde (tomorrow afternoon). At ten years of age, Cari was old enough to understand the message of hope that they brought.

The tinkle of a bicycle bell floated across the dirt courtyard, and Cari raced outside. “You’re here! Welcome, hermanas (sisters),” she said joyfully.

“We came as soon as we could,” Sister Martin said as she leaned her bike against the adobe house. The dwelling was whitewashed outside, but it still showed the mud bricks inside. “Where is your mother?”

“Waiting inside. Come on!” Cari rushed ahead and opened the door. “Mamá, aquí estan (they’re here)!” she called.

Señora Arguello hurried forward, taking the missionaries’ outstretched hands and giving the sisters the customary kiss on the cheek. “Pasen, no mas (Come in),” she welcomed them as she showed them to the chairs at the table, the only furniture other than the bed in the tiny room. “Cari, see that the sisters have cups,” Señora Arguello said, bustling outside to the rustic stove where hot cocoa was warming.

Cari quickly set the table for four. Of course, she and her mother would drink very little of the precious cocoa, but perhaps the sisters wouldn’t notice.

When the cups were empty, the lady missionaries began teaching Cari and her mother more of the marvelous truths that had brought such hope to the Arguellos. As Sister Martin and Sister Darnell told about the Savior’s love and plan of salvation for all men, Cari felt a tear sting her eye. Her father had died four years before in an accident. Would she really see him again someday? She sniffed loudly.

“Here, Cari.” Sister Martin handed her a handkerchief. “Borrow mine,” she said with a wink.

Cari dabbed her eyes, then smoothed the handkerchief out. The material felt fine and soft. “This feels good, Hermana,” Cari said. “What a shame that some of the embroidery has come out.”

“It is beautiful,” said Senora Arguello. “If you like, I can mend it for you.”

“Oh, would you? It was a gift from a former companion.”

“Of course. I’ll have it ready tomorrow.”

“Hermana Arguello,” Sister Martin said, turning again to her lesson, “we’re holding a baptismal service on Saturday. Will you and Cari be baptized then?”

Cari held her breath. She had only been to church once. She had to take turns with her mother, since they owned only one pair of shoes between them.

(Yes), we will be most happy to become members of the true church,” she answered.

“Wonderful! And on Sunday we want you to come to church together! No more excuses.” Sister Darnell smiled at them.

Cari exchanged worried looks with her mother.

“Perhaps. We’ll see,” her mother said softly.

“Sister Arguello, I know the Lord wants you to attend. When you are baptized, you are making a commitment to attend every week. Both of you.”

“I know. I know. We’ll try.”

The sisters looked doubtfully at one another. Cari could see they were not satisfied. They left a few minutes later, with promises to return mañana.

That night Cari and her mother talked long about the Church. They tried to think of some way to get enough money for another pair of shoes, but there just wasn’t time between then and Saturday.

The next day, Cari waited in the courtyard for the sisters. When they finally wheeled in on their bikes, she called out excitedly, “Guess what? I’ve read all of First Nephi! Mamá and I read very late last night, and she was still reading when I fell asleep.”

“That’s wonderful, Cari,” said Sister Martin, drawing her close for a hug and kiss. “I think you really do want to become a member of the Church.”

“Oh, yes. More than anything!”

Sister Martin paused, “Then you be sure to go to church next Sunday. They need smart little girls like you in Primary!”

Cari’s face fell. Next Sunday was her mother’s turn. “I’ll see,” she mumbled.

The missionaries didn’t urge her further as they all went inside.

“Here is your pañuelo (handkerchief), Hermana,” said Señora Arguello, handing it to Sister Martin.

“What lovely work! Thank you!” As she looked at the handkerchief, a smile began to light up her face. “Hermana Arguello,” she said, “this gives me an idea. Could you embroider some pañuelos for my friends in the United States? I’ll be glad to pay for your time and the materials.”

Senora Arguello’s eyes lit up. “Of course! If you’ll bring them over, I’ll do them right away!”

Later, when the sisters brought the handkerchiefs, Cari looked longingly at the lovely, fine cotton squares. She had never owned anything so delicate. Her hand caressed one gently.

Sister Martin noticed Cari’s longing. Leaning down, she said, “I brought an extra one. Would you like it, Cari?”

“Oh, yes!” Cari clapped her hands. “Thank you!”

Later Cari’s mother pulled her close. “Mi preciosa (Honey), why don’t you help me embroider the pañuelos? If we do yours, too, we might just make enough money to buy a pair of shoes. Can you part with it, darling?”

Cari fell silent. She had never owned anything of beauty in her life. She reached out and touched the pañuelos again, then answered, “Sí, Mamá.” She turned and went out to scrub clothes in the cold water from the spigot in the courtyard. She would try to forget the lovely gift.

When the sisters returned on Friday, the pañuelos were ready.

“Here, take all of them.” Señora Arguello handed the beautiful handkerchiefs to Sister Martin. “Thank you for the one you gave to Cari, but it would be foolish to keep it when we need the money for necessities. Está bien (Is that all right with you)?”

“Of course. Here you are.” Sister Martin paid Señora Arguello for all of the handkerchiefs, then carefully tucked them away.

Cari smiled bravely at Sister Martin. After all, there were things more precious than handkerchiefs. She would have shoes for church. What else mattered?

The baptismal service was beautiful. Cari could hardly wait to go to Primary as a real member of the true Church! On Sunday she and her mother entered the chapel together. People they had met only briefly hurried up to them and made them welcome.

“¡Buenos días (Good morning)! We knew you’d both be here!” Sister Martin and Sister Darnell each gave them big abrazos (hugs).

Cari sat proudly by her mother, and as the sacrament came by, she reverently thought of the Savior. A small tear of happiness escaped, and Cari wiped it away with the back of her hand.

“Here,” Sister Martin whispered. She handed Cari a small handkerchief. “Use mine.”

After sacrament meeting, Cari told Sister Martin that she’d return the handkerchief as soon as it was washed.

“Please don’t bother,” Sister Martin said. “It’s such an old worn-out thing. It’s about time I threw it away.”

“May I have it, Hermana?” Cari asked, looking longingly at its little pink flowers and dainty lace edge.

“If you really want it—but it won’t last long, I’m afraid.”

Sister Martin was wrong. It would last forever as a reminder of the most precious thing in Cari’s life, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch