From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Her Little Light Shined

If your faith can’t move mountains, it should at least climb them.

Queen Mother Moore

It was the last place I expected to see an American— especially an African American. And I had no idea how she would soon transform our lives.

On a mountaintop in the Alps, I had come to conduct a wedding ceremony in my adopted country of Switzerland. A young black woman extended her hand as I entered the centuries-old chapel.

“Hello, I’m Brenda, the gospel singer for today.”

“Oh, American?”

“Chicago,” she answered.

“Boston—um, Arthur and I’m the minister.”

She was very nice, but I wondered if gospel would go well here. This, after all, was one of the most conservative corners of old Europe—a place where women first won the right to vote in 1971 and strangers find an uneasy welcome. My stomach tightened as I wondered how Brenda would be received with her gospel style. This was a church where people sit stiffly, do not smile much, and do not clap to the rhythm of any kind of music.

It is also a country where people of color are not always greeted with kindness. Discrimination or outright insults are not uncommon. Now, as my stomach tightened once more, the bride marched into the church and I muttered a quiet prayer that the wedding guests would be kind to the girl from Chicago.

As she stood to sing, the congregation sat motionless with blank faces and I grew even more nervous, but Brenda was undaunted. She gave them gospel as the little village had never heard it before. She closed her eyes, reached down into her soul and took us from the valley to the mountaintop.

By the time her song, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” was finished, she had shined enough to light up the stodgy Alpine faces. She sang with such talent and emotion that the normally reserved Swiss couldn’t help clapping and joining in, and that day, a transformation took place.

In that magical moment, we knew it was all possible— possible to learn from each other, to love each other, to let the little light shine in every heart.

As if she knew it, she showed us in song. “I love you no matter what,” and they loved her back. When she was finished, the congregation stood smiling and clapping like blacks in church in a steamy Alabama town.

Later, as I was packing my car to leave, a boy said to me in German, “That American woman . . . I don’t know what she said—but I believe it!”

We all believed. And one little Swiss village will never be the same because her little light shined.

Arthur Bowler

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