When she sang on the choir, she sang with all her heart. If the more one sang meant that they loved the Lord better than another then Sundi McCoy loved him more than anybody in Jerusalem Missionary Church. At nine years of age, she was a small nine but her voice was big and whenever she got up to sing the visitors and members of the church jumped up, clapped their hands, moved their bodies which made her sing even better. She loved making the Lord proud.
Sundi knew she had that effect on people and like her momma said she could be a star and sing for the world or she could let her light shine and sing for God. Sundi tugged at her skirt hating that she had worn that purple flowered skirt to school today because she wouldn’t have time to change into pants before choir practice just like her mother had warned her. It wasn’t just the skirt, she hated that her mother was making her wear long ponytails with purple bows on each side to match, like a baby. Her mother just didn’t want her to grow up.
No doubt she was a pretty little girl and some at JMC thought that the choir depended too much on the little girl to headline most of their songs. But there could be no question that God had blessed the little girl with a big voice.
Sundi’s mother Katie, sat off by herself in the pews of the church watching the choir rehearse. She couldn’t have been more proud that her baby sang for the Lord. She had told Sundi from the time she could understand that her birth had been a miracle and Sunday was a miracle day and thus her name. It was the first day and the best day of the week because it was when she gathered with other disciples to seek and praise God.
Sundi’s silver sparkly flats glistened from the choir stand as she tapped her foot to the beat. She opened her mouth and as if heaven had released its angels, Sundi had the people who watched, up and out of their seats praising the Lord. After the song, Sundi handed the microphone to Bobby and walked back to her seat in the choir stand.
Sundi listened to Bobby on the piano continue to play. She began to mouth the song to herself when she noticed Mother Harold with all her bags coming to sit beside her. Mother Harold scooted toward Sundi in the choir stand and as always with her large smile and lots of noise made no excuse for her large presence.
Mother Harold leaned forward toward Sundi and gave her a kiss. Mother Harold’s kisses were wet and she always planted one on the side of Sundi’s head and Sundi always wiped it off with the back of her hand. Sundi liked Mother Harold a lot; she was kind and protective and Sundi felt it. She always wondered though if Mother Harold looked in the mirror before she left the house. She knew that her mother wouldn’t be caught dead looking like Mother Harold with that perfectly round circle of red blush on each cheek and long obvious fake eyelashes. But it didn’t matter because she loved Mother Harold no matter what.
Pastor Leon made his way down the church aisle as the room began to get loud again. It was something about him that made the church folk weak in their knees. He was a tall and fit brown man with strong features and a deep voice. His hint of a mustache made him look important and business like. But at JMC, he didn’t just look important, he was important.
Sundi didn’t think he was a frightening man, because he always smiled but she did think that he smelled like her mother’s furniture polish. He was like God in church and she was always on her best behavior. As the choir stood prepared to sing another song, Pastor Leon stood and watched. Sundi was aware that he was watching and she knew that she’d have to bring it hard this time.
Bobby passed the microphone through the choir to Sundi to redo the song. Sundi closed her eyes and opened her mouth. Her ponytails shook as she bobbed her head, smiled and sang from the depths of her insides. When she finished, everybody clapped even Pastor Leon. His grin was so wide that all Sundi saw was white teeth stretched across his face. Sundi smiled at him and waved. He smiled back at the little girl and nodded as if giving his approval. The joy that Sundi felt over his small gesture meant the world to her.
Pastor Leon walked to the front of the choir stand with his starched crisp navy tailored suit that remained perfect even as he moved. Sundi was surprised that Pastor Leon stayed to watch the practice as he always seemed too busy to sit still for too long. The pastor cleared his throat put his hand up to make sure that Dude quieted the drums so he could speak.
“Hello everyone,” Pastor Leon said with a big smile. “Give yourselves a hand. If I didn’t know better; I’d think it was heaven’s angels visiting JMC performing for us.” He laughed and the choir erupted in laughter and cheers along with him. He knew how to make people smile and Sundi was one of those people.
“Actually, you’re all beautiful and Bobby and I have a big announcement to make,” he looked over at Bobby. “We’ve known some information for some time but it was only a possibility then but now it’s a reality and it involves all of you.”
“What is it Pastor?” A lady in the back shouted out. A few other members mumbled the same excited sentiments.
Sundi couldn’t fathom what would involve all of them but whatever it was; she definitely wanted to be a part of it.
“Yes, the suspense is killing us,” A voice from the back yelled out.
Pastor Leon motioned to hush everyone. “I was going to let Bobby announce this but it’s so exciting that I couldn’t wait.” Looking like he was going to burst, he took a deep breath then continued. “The JMC choir has been invited to perform at a special ceremony honoring our troops at the White House in front of the President of the United States and the First Lady.”
Gasps filled the room and eyes widened as everyone seemed to wonder if the pastor was joking. Upon seeing that he was serious, the room erupted in cheers as some choir members jumped up and down, hugging and congratulating one another. There was joy beyond what Sundi had ever seen even when they visited other churches and got standing ovations.
“This means that all of your dedication and hard work has paid off. I’m very proud of you all.”
Hugs were exchanged and praises went up to God as the choir heard the news. Sundi couldn’t fathom performing in front of the President. She had learned so much about him in school and to think that she was going to be singing in front of him was more than she had ever dreamed of. She jumped up and down with everyone else knowing that this was going to be bigger than any church she ever sang at and she always wanted to visit Washington DC. Maybe she’d even see her daddy there.
“God is good!” Someone in the choir shouted.
Pastor Leon put up his hands. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a great time of reflection and thanksgiving. We wouldn’t have these awesome opportunities if God didn’t continue to open doors for this church. We’re growing and we’re doing great things. With that being said, I know this choir is going to make sure to do the church justice and we’ll give you all more information at a later date.”
The room erupted in applause again.
Sundi’s face beamed. She felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned around to Mother Harold.
“You know what that means? The President and First lady are going to hear that big voice of yours.”
Sundi’s eyes lit up as Mother Harold hugged her.
“Ok, everybody settle down,” Pastor Leon said. “We’ll give you more information later but we have a lot of work to do. Bobby is going to push you all really hard so let’s see what you got.”
Bobby stood up from the piano and began handing out song sheets. “Okay everyone, let’s take a break and that’ll give you a few minutes to look over the music,” Bobby said speaking into the microphone so that everyone heard him. He handed Sundi a new song sheet. “Sundi, I want you to sing lead on this one.”
Sundi looked over at her mother who sat in a pew smiling and watching. Katie then waved Sundi over. Sundi stepped down from the choir stand, sat her music sheet on the first pew where her bag was then walked hurriedly to her mother seated in a fifth row pew.
“They want me to sing lead on the first song,” Sundi said out of breath as she approached her mother.
“That’s great, baby.” Katie smiled smoothing down Sundi’s ponytail. “Do you want something to drink?” Katie asked reaching inside her oversized purse for a juice box.
“Okay, then. Go on back,” Katie said closing up her bag. “Make sure you pay attention.”
Sundi began walking back toward the choir stand. As she walked down the aisle, an arm stuck out in front of her from the pew causing Sundi to stop. Ms. Hattie’s head peeked out startling her.
“Sundi, come here sweetheart, do me a favor baby,” Ms. Hattie said in her low soft voice.
It was Ms. Hattie. She was old, probably the oldest lady that Sundi had ever seen but she was extra nice. The wrinkles on her face were dark like deep cuts into skin. She always wore a hat over her white almost yellow hair. Sundi knew that a van always brought her to every service and whenever she saw anyone, she hugged them.
Ms. Hattie reached in her big brown bag with a slow shaky hand and pulled out an envelope. “Take this to the pastor, baby.”
Sundi took the envelope from her. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Thank you, baby,” She said reaching her arm slowly out for a hug. Sundi leaned down and gave Ms. Hattie a hug. “You look so pretty in your purple.”
“Thank you, Ms. Hattie,” Sundi said looking around for Pastor Leon before spotting him on the other side of the church speaking with the First lady. It was as if they were having two different conversations because First Lady wasn’t smiling but he was. She knew she would just have to wait since she knew better than to interrupt adults talking. She began walking back to the front pew where her bag was and sat down with the envelope still in her hand. She looked at it wondering what it was.
Sundi reached inside of her Hello Kitty tote bag and pulled out her pink journal. She knew she was supposed to look over the music sheet but she was a fast learner so she began writing fast in her journal about singing for the President. She heard Ms. Hattie calling her name from the back. She turned around and Ms. Hattie was pointing in the direction of the Pastor who was walking out of the sanctuary.
Sundi looked toward the choir stand and they were still on break so she hopped up from the pew causing her pink journal to fall off her lap and onto the seat.
“Pastor Leon!” Sundi called out after him but he hadn’t heard her; he kept walking. Sundi picked up her pace but remembered that there was no running in the church so she tried to walk fast to catch up.
Sundi followed the Pastor down the hall but didn’t yell out for him anymore because it was disrespectful. She watched the Pastor turn the corner into his office and heard the door close. She had never actually been in the Pastor’s study before but she had passed by it in amazement catching quick glimpses of what seemed to be the office of a king. She approached it with excitement because there was a possibility that she would be invited in. She knocked on the door.
After a moment, Pastor Leon asked who it was but opened the door before she had answered. Standing before her was the Pastor who towered over her like a giant. She had never felt nervous around him before but suddenly she did and she had almost forgotten why she had come to his office.
“Sundi?” He seemed surprised. “How can I help you, young lady?”
“Um, um,” Sundi said trying to get it out before holding up the envelope.
Pastor Leon laughed. “Come on in, young lady.”
Sundi walked in to the office slowly; mesmerized at her surroundings. The office was huge with shiny wood furniture; a large wood desk and gigantic stained glass windows. Sundi continued to look around noticing that across the room was a thick white couch and gigantic vases with plants taller than she was. She looked up at the ceiling at the glistening chandelier that hung in the center above a wood table so shiny that she could see her reflection in.
“Wow…” Sundi gasped in amazement.
Pastor Leon laughed as he closed the door. “So, why do I have this pleasure, young lady?”
“Ms. Hattie wanted me to give you this,” Sundi said stretching out her arm and handing him the envelope but she couldn’t stop looking at the comfortable couch.
Pastor Leon noticed. “Feel free to sit on it. It’s feels great, I promise.”
Sundi almost felt as if she shouldn’t sit on the couch since it was so luxurious. It was hard to imagine touching something so wonderful looking without being told that it was for adults only. She wondered if her mom had ever been in here; Sundi was sure she’d have the same reaction as she did.
“Okay.” Sundi sat. Wow…it was all she could think of as she sat on the couch. This must have been what heaven’s chairs were like, she thought.
“I told you,” Pastor Leon said. He joined her on the couch and bounced up and down. “See, you can’t hurt this couch.”
Sundi immediately felt uncomfortable. She fiddled with the bottom of her skirt gripping it tightly as she thought about how angry her mother was going to be. Her mother liked the Pastor a lot but Sundi knew she wouldn’t be happy knowing Sundi was in here by herself.
“You are such a pretty little girl,” Pastor Leon said. “…and you’re growing up so fast.”
Sundi embarrassingly dropped her head. She didn’t want him talking like that. He shouldn’t be talking to her like that. She just wanted to go back out with the choir but she couldn’t even hear the choir anymore; there was just the sound of the Pastor’s heavy dull breathing in her ear.
Pastor Leon began touching Sundi’s hair playfully fingering one of her ponytails causing the purple ribbon to fall off of it. “Oh, I’m sorry, let me put it back on.”
Pastor Leon picked up Sundi’s ribbon from the floor and awkwardly fumbled at putting it back on but did. “See, its back on.”
Pastor Leon slowly placed his hand on Sundi’s tiny leg. He began rubbing his hand up and down hitting the skirt ever so slightly. Sundi’s leg shook nervously.
“Why are you shaking?”
Sundi didn’t answer. Her stomach knotted up and she thought she was going to vomit but there was nothing to throw up. She wrapped her arms tightly around her body. She thought about her mom. She wanted to stand up and run out of the room and to the sanctuary but she was too afraid to move.
Pastor Leon scooted closer to Sundi on the couch with one hand continually rubbing her leg while his other hand cupped Sundi’s face. Sundi trembled helplessly but she was frozen unable to move or scream. Where was everyone? Why hadn’t her mom come looking for her? Pastor Leon leaned in and placed his large lips on hers as his hand made its way up her skirt.
“You are such a pretty little girl and you are going to be a beautiful woman. Do you know that?”
Sundi didn’t answer as she shook uncontrollably. She opened her mouth to scream but nothing came out.
Pastor Leon continued to kiss her and touch her as she sat motionless unable to move.
“Now this is our secret. If you tell anyone then God will be really angry at you,” Leon whispered in her ear which had a tiny gold bear shaped earring in it.
A tear ran down Sundi’s cheek as she felt the Pastor’s warm breath on her face. Sundi nodded, closed her eyes and died inside.