A Prayer from the Ghetto


On 26 October 1964 the city of Kingston, Jamaica, officially recorded the birth of twins. This was the beginning for me. I never knew my parents. I was raised by my grandmother. The first home I knew was a one-room wooden shack in the ghetto.

While growing up in the severe poverty of the ghetto, I realized how hard my grandmother worked for us. She would rise at five o’clock every morning from the tattered old bed she shared with five other family members. After waking us kids, she would take us to search for bricks. With the bricks we collected, Grandma built an oven to bake bread that would be sold to neighbors. Grandma struggled every day, yet she always had a smile on her face and seemed happy.

We didn’t have running water in our shack that combined with many others to form a compound. There was one main pipe. Everyone caught their water there in buckets. We had to take the water on our heads to our homes. The water pipe was surrounded by a green, muddy area; the children used it for a playground. Ghetto children didn’t always wear clothes. Usually they were just covered with mud and dirt. The toilets and bath places were placed in the center of the compound so everyone could use them.

Low self-esteem and lack of money in the neighborhood caused many there to turn to immorality as an escape. This led to higher population and congestion in the ghetto. Most people didn’t work; they depended on the government for food. To obtain nice clothes and other material possessions they would often steal.

My best friend was born outside in the streets. Her mother was only fourteen years old at the time. Following in her mother’s footsteps, my friend had her first child at the age of thirteen, making her mother a grandmother at age twenty-seven. She had her third child by the age of nineteen. After leaving her third boyfriend, she moved in with her mother, adding her three children to her mother’s six. My friend had the responsibility for nine children under the age of seven before she reached her twentieth birthday. As I looked at my friend’s life, I realized that I wanted something better for myself. I wanted a home and a family. I knew I had to leave the ghetto.

My grandma had taught me to pray at night before going to bed. But to whom was I praying? What was he like? Where did he come from? These were questions that couldn’t be answered. I felt as if I were in a dark and dreary world with no hope of light.

Determined to understand more about this mystery, I started attending the church to which we then belonged, because Grandma said God could be found there. But it didn’t do much good. It confused me more. They taught me about Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost, who, I was told, belonged to and were one with God.

I visited many other churches. When we studied the Bible and the life of Christ, I felt a very different feeling.

I discovered that this feeling had something to do with Christ, the Bible, the Holy Ghost, and God, but I was still confused. I started to pray and have trust in the Lord. Still, there was something missing. Although I could have the good feeling while reading the Bible, I couldn’t have that feeling with me all the time.

One teacher told me a way to retain this feeling was by being baptized, so I was baptized. But nothing changed. All churches seemed the same, so I decided to stay home and study on my own. I found myself praying more intensely for the Lord to help me find the true path that led to him. He heard my prayers.

I met a young man, and we became friends. For the next ten months we shared our ideas and thoughts about many things, but never religion. One day I found that my friend traveled with a Bible, so I asked him if he went to church and what the name of his church was. It was some long name—The Church of Jesus Christ of something something Saints. I wasn’t the least bit interested—it sounded like just another church to me.

My friend later told me he was going to serve the Lord for two years in another country. I figured he was going to be a pastor. When he left, I began to wonder what his church was like, and I began to search for their meeting place.

I found it a few months later, but I also found something more. As I walked through the doors of the meetinghouse, I felt a feeling impossible to describe; it was joy, peace, comfort, certainty, and happiness all in one. It was like coming home. My questions had now been answered.

The members of the church welcomed me with open arms. At first, I was reluctant to accept these welcomes because it was a little too much. I wasn’t used to so many people. They welcomed me whether they knew me or not. At the end of the meeting, a calm feeling came over me, and I heard these words in my mind: “Debbie, this is the place, and these are the people you have been searching for.”

Looking back, I see that my life in the ghetto was difficult and that a person could make it harder by making wrong choices. There was little opportunity for progression. But I wanted something worth living for. When the opportunity came to leave the ghetto with part of my family, I decided this was my chance.

Many of the girls I grew up with never left the ghetto. I could not have made it without following the desires of my heart and trusting in my Father above to lead me. I was blessed with the chance to leave the ghetto, be baptized a member of this church, gain an education, and fulfill a mission. I know Heavenly Father loves us all and is mindful of our circumstances, no matter where we are. He desires above all things that we find true happiness.

[illustration] Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett