The Deacon with the Big Smile


Zayne Callahan’s big smile reflects his brave, strong, intelligent spirit. He doesn’t let spina bifida stop him from passing the sacrament, playing the violin, and participating in school productions.

The first thing Zayne Callahan can remember is living in the basement of an orphanage in China. He had been there since he was a baby. Zayne later learned that he was kept in the basement so people who came to the orphanage to adopt children wouldn’t see him.

“I was considered an embarrassment because I was born with spina bifida,” Zayne says. Spina bifida is a birth defect that made his legs weak and prevented him from walking normally. “I wasn’t able to go to school or hardly even learn the Chinese language because the people at the orphanage didn’t think it was important to teach a child with a disability.”

Zayne was seven years old when John and Wendy Callahan—his future parents—first saw him on a videotape of Chinese children waiting to be adopted. When the photographer passed the camera over Zayne briefly, he smiled and waved. That action won the hearts of his future parents who recognized his brave, strong, intelligent spirit.

That was five years ago. Now, Zayne is a deacon in the Lolo Ward of the Stevensville Montana Stake. When he turned 12, he wanted to fulfill his priesthood responsibilities by passing the sacrament. That was a big challenge for a boy who must use crutches to walk.

Originally, Zayne tried to pass the sacrament while balancing on his crutches. When that didn’t work, he decided to use his wheelchair instead. Now Zayne passes the sacrament by placing the trays on his lap and wheeling down the aisles.

Zayne works hard to fulfill his other priesthood duties too. An older member in his ward says she was impressed when the young men went to her home to pick up rocks as a service project. She found Zayne sitting on the ground putting rocks into a wheelbarrow. He had laid his crutches down because they were in the way, but his disability didn’t stop him from serving just like the other boys.

According to his father, Zayne doesn’t waste time feeling sorry for himself. If he wants to do something, he figures out a way to do it. He played a lead part in the school production of Red Riding Hood. He was the head wolf and led a pack of wolves onstage, his crutches keeping time to the music. He is also an accomplished violinist and pianist. While playing his violin, he has to sit on a high stool rather than stand like most violinists, but that doesn’t distract from the beauty of his music.

No matter where Zayne goes or what he does, people notice his good example. One classmate summed it up by saying, “He’s that boy with the big smile.”

[photos] Photographs courtesy of Wendy Callahan and by PhotoDisc and Digital Stock

Fay Waldemar McCracken is a member of the Lolo Ward, Stevensville Montana Stake.