“Primary Is Primary,” Friend, Oct. 1996, 40
Liliana loved Primary. She loved the lessons. She loved the pictures her teacher drew on the chalkboard to go with the stories. She loved the games they played and the things they made. Most of all, she loved singing the Primary songs while Hermana (Sister) Soto played the sweet melodies on the piano. She always listened as the notes lingered on after the singing stopped.
Today, though, Liliana was worried about going to Primary. She was worried because she would not be going to her own Primary. Her family was visiting her abuelo (grandfather) in a village just outside of Iquitos, Peru.
Things were very different in Iquitos than in the big city of Lima, where Liliana lived. It was always hot and steamy, and the buses and cars had no glass on the windows. Most of the homes out where Abuelo lived had straw roofs and were built on stilts so that they wouldn’t get flooded during the rainy season.
“Where’s the chapel?” she asked as she and Abuelo strolled down a dirt path, just ahead of her parents. Abuelo stopped, bent down to Liliana’s eye level, and pointed to a small hut barely visible in the distance. “That’s it? That hut at the end of the path?”
“Sí (yes),” Abuelo replied. “That is where our little branch meets each Sunday. It is the home of our branch president.”
When they reached the hut, Liliana followed Abuelo to one side of the large, one-room dwelling and sat, cross-legged, on the straw mats that covered the wooden floor. She looked around. There were no chairs, no benches, and no piano. All that she saw was a table at the front of the room with the scriptures on it and, to the side, another, smaller table covered with a white cloth.
Several more families came in and greeted Abuelo, Liliana, and her parents. When they were all settled, the meeting began.
It seemed really strange to sing without a piano and to sit on the floor, but as the sacrament was blessed and passed by one young man, it seemed more like sacrament meeting.
When it was over, Abuelo said, “It’s time for you to go to Primary.”
She looked around. There were less than a dozen children and no other rooms in the house. “Where is Primary, Abuelo?”
“Follow me,” a girl about Liliana’s age told her as she headed for the door. “I’ll show you where it is. My name’s Elena,” she added as they climbed down the ladder and headed around the back of the hut. “What’s yours?”
“Here we are,” Elena said as they reached a small clearing at the edge of the rain forest.
Liliana was astonished to see children of all ages sitting together on a fallen tree trunk propped up with mounds of dirt. The teacher was sitting on a rock just across from them. This isn’t Primary! she thought, sitting down next to Elena. Only one class? Outside? No table? No chalkboard? No chairs? Her heart sank. She longed to hear the beautiful melodies of the songs she knew and to see the familiar faces of her friends and teacher.
The lesson began. Liliana sat silently in the sticky heat. ¡Pobrecitos (These poor kids)! she thought. They don’t know what Primary is really like. How can they even pay attention with all the bird and insect noises?
The teacher began telling a story. She drew pictures in the dirt with a long stick. Then she had the children come up and act out what they thought would happen next. Later they went into the rain forest and played a game called “Follow the Spirit.” It was so beautiful, and Liliana was having so much fun, that she forgot how disappointed she had been.
As Primary time was coming to a close, the children gathered back in the clearing and sat down on the log. “Let’s have a closing song and a prayer,” announced the teacher. As the group of children sang “Soy un hijo de Dios” (“I Am a Child of God”) with all their hearts, tears came to Liliana’s eyes. Suddenly she realized that Primary was Primary, no matter where you were, or what kind of a chapel you had. Heavenly Father loves all His children just the same, and we can learn about Him anywhere. As the song ended, she listened as the notes lingered and echoed through the trees.
As she sat in Primary in Lima the next month, Liliana ached to take a walk in the rain forest and to see the smiling faces of her new friends there. And during singing time, she missed the rich accompaniment of the tropical birds and bugs. ¡Pobrecitos! she thought. They don’t know what Primary can really be like!