Three Small Coins
December 1988

“Three Small Coins,” Tambuli, Dec. 1988, 23

Three Small Coins

During my first Christmas as a bishop, a single mother with three small children lived in our ward. This young woman had a strong testimony of the gospel and lived it to the best of her ability. She cleaned homes and did sewing to try to earn enough money, but often she could not.

Raising three young boys by herself was a real challenge. These active, energetic youngsters always seemed to be in some sort of trouble. I remember removing them from more than one tussle with their classmates.

Several good people helped this struggling family. I’ll never forget the brother who came into my office one Sunday just a couple of weeks before Christmas, asking to speak with me privately. He was concerned about the young mother and her family and wanted to do something for them. Would I accept his contribution and use it in the best way I could to help them? As we spoke, I hardly noticed his small son, who remained in the office with us.

The man explained that he did not know what the woman and her family needed. He just wanted to help and felt that I would be inspired to know what to do. He then entrusted to me quite a remarkable sum of money—not remarkable in amount, but remarkable relative to his modest income, of which I was well aware, I knew that this gift meant a sacrifice of his own family’s Christmas, at least in the temporal sense. Seeing the resolve shining in his eyes, I protested only gently. Then I cleared my tightening throat, thanked him for his unselfish gift, and promised to do my best to make Christmas a little brighter for the young mother and her sons.

I also agreed to honor his request that his name be kept secret.

The story might well end here and still be memorable. But the event that has kept this experience in my mind had yet to occur. It wasn’t the way I was able to help the family with the contribution—although that turned out to be most gratifying—but rather what took place in my office one week following that brother’s visit.

It was just a few days before Christmas, and I was between tithing-settlement interviews when I heard a soft knock on the office door. I opened it to see, standing quite alone, the six-year-old boy who had sat quietly in my office while his dad and I had talked the Sunday before.

He asked politely if he could talk to me for just a minute. After we walked into the office—which I think is always a bit of a frightening experience for youngsters—I invited him to sit down. He fidgeted with something in his pocket and, after some struggle, pulled out three small coins and laid them on my desk. He apologized that the coins were all the money he had, and that they were a little old and dirty, since he had had them quite a while. The money, he explained, was for me to use to help his three friends, like his dad was helping their mother. As my heart swelled and my eyes became moist, he added that he felt I would know best how to divide his treasure among his friends and that he was sorry that one of the coins was of less value than the other two, so they could not be divided evenly between the three boys.

What lessons originated in that moment! A father’s unselfish example, the trust of a small boy in his bishop, and the humble, Christlike act of a child obviously without guile. Only a few weeks before I had pulled this boy from a quarrel with the boys who would soon be receiving his forgiving love and charity.

I hugged him, partly to cover my now obvious tears and mostly to tell him how much I appreciated him and how much I knew his Father in Heaven loved him. I then walked him to the door, shook his hand, and assured him that I would do the best I could to help his friends this Christmas with his generous gift. As I turned to go back into my office, he whispered after me, “And remember, Bishop, don’t ever tell anyone it was me.”

Well, I never have told anyone until now, my young friend. I hope relating our special story in this way is alright so that others might feel a bit of the quiet Christmas spirit of love and charity that we felt that day.

Illustrated by Olinda Reynolds