“The Doll Lady,” Ensign, Apr. 1991, 62–63
An aging woman sat daily amid a heap of scraps on the sidewalk, selling homemade dolls. Only the top of her matted hair showed as she bent over her work, her arthritic fingers stitching a doll’s face. She could afford no scissors or thread, so she cut the scraps with a dull razor and sewed them with yarn from unraveled sweaters. Her name was Isolina, but we Bolivian missionaries affectionately called her the Doll Lady.
Sometimes my companion, Sister Gann, and I stopped to look at the dolls and to visit with the Doll Lady. One day, as we visited with her, I began talking to her about God. Sensing her enthusiasm for the subject, my companion set up an appointment with her for the next morning.
As we entered Isolina’s home, we were momentarily taken aback. We couldn’t imagine anyone living in such a small, dark room. The only piece of furniture was a broken bed in the corner, so we sat on the mounds of rags. There were no windows, electricity, or running water. The room’s bare walls, blackened by exposure to an old kerosene burner, intensified the darkness. As we talked, Isolina repeatedly soaked pieces of wood in kerosene and then lit them under the burner. This produced two-foot flames that singed her bangs. The minute we stepped out of Isolina’s cramped room, Sister Gann and I decided to come back and clean her one-room home.
The following Saturday morning, after making arrangements with Isolina, eight missionaries armed with buckets, brushes, and soapy water began cleaning everything. After we finished washing the sooty walls, my companion and I helped Isolina wash and cut her hair. Before we left, we gave her a new kerosene burner and a picture of the Savior to hang on the wall. With her head erect, her face radiant, Isolina thanked us for everything.
Every morning that following week, we held a discussion with the Doll Lady. I noticed that although we always began by teaching her the planned discussion, she ended up teaching us with scriptures she quoted from the Bible. She asked to be baptized even before we mentioned it.
While we taught her, Isolina told us of dreams she had had of standing in flowing water with hills all around. This, she explained, was a sign that she should be baptized.
The day we arranged for her baptism, we learned that none of the baptismal fonts were available and that we would need to baptize Isolina in the river. Her arthritis worsened that Sunday to the point that she fell on her way home from church. Even as we climbed down the steep hillside to the riverbed below, her legs buckled beneath her. Undaunted, she announced that she would sit down and slide to the bottom if necessary. After the elders helped her down the steep hillside to the river, she slowly looked around, and then she assured us that this was the place in her dream.
When Elder Lublin, newly arrived in the mission field, prepared to baptize her, he realized that he couldn’t remember how the prayer started. Isolina turned to him and recited the prayer softly. We all were amazed.
She never ceased to teach us. The Doll Lady radiated joy that day—the joy of one who has been prepared by the Spirit to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The next month, Sister Gann and I stopped to talk with the Doll Lady as she sold her dolls. Isolina was eating her lunch, a bowl of broth with a small cob of corn floating in it. A beggar hobbled by with an outstretched hand. Isolina reached into her broth and handed him the corn. She said, “I always try to save something for those who have less than I.”
When I met Isolina, I thought I would be teaching her about the pure love of Christ, but instead, she taught me.