Fatima Dedrickson still remembers her first day on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Every person she passed was staring at her.
“Have they never seen a Black person?” she thought.
Fatima had come to BYU on a track and field scholarship. She didn’t speak English so when they gave her forms to sign, she mostly just signed them without knowing what she was legally committing herself to. One of those documents was the BYU Honor Code, and what she didn’t know was that the other students likely weren’t staring because of her skin tone—they were likely staring at her tank top, which was prohibited in the school’s dress code.
Utah, while not completely unlike Sweden when it comes to weather, was a new world for Fatima. But she had come because of words spoken to her by a prophet of God—words she just couldn’t get out of her head.
A Prophet’s Voice
Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Fatima’s parents immigrated to Stockholm, Sweden, in search of better employment. And it was there that they first met Latter-day Saint missionaries and were baptized. Her dad had been a Protestant and her mom a Catholic but when Fatima was just months old, they were sealed in the temple.
So, Fatima was raised with the gospel in her home, but frequent track and field meets kept her from being a full participant in most church activities, and she really struggled with general conference.
“It was hard to feel some kind of connection because we sat there and watched it on the screen at church,” she recalls. “I remember feeling… ‘I just want to feel a connection. I just want to feel something.’ I don’t think I was struggling with my testimony; I just think I needed that extra strength in my testimony to really understand and realize the apostles and our prophet are called of God, and even though I am far away how blessed are we to be able to listen to conference? Even if it’s a day later, we are still so blessed to have that opportunity.”
When she learned the prophet at that time, President Thomas S. Monson, would be visiting Sweden, she knew she needed to be there to hear him speak. She went alone and the building was bursting at the seams with members eager to hear from the prophet. Fatima remembers two distinct moments from the meeting that day: First, the opening hymn was “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet,” and the Spirit washed over her confirming that she really was in the presence of a prophet. The second moment came after waiting in line for an hour and a half to meet President Monson after the meeting.
“You’re so beautiful,” President Monson told her. “We need you in Utah.”
She went home and wrote about their interaction in her journal. She kept those words in her mind and in heart until she was given an opportunity to come to the United States. It is still an experience she holds in her heart.
“It’s those memories and those times that I cling onto whenever there’s anything that I’m questioning or anything that I don’t understand. I can go back to that—I remember that exact feeling and how Heavenly Father was so mindful of me at that time,” she says.
As a graduation gift, she was able to travel to the United States and met with coaches at BYU where she was offered a scholarship. Upon returning home to Sweden, she became close friends with the missionaries serving in her area, all of whom went to BYU and the University of Utah. She rarely made it to Institute class but the one weekend she did make it, she met a BYU professor who was visiting Sweden, and he invited Fatima to come stay with him and his wife in Utah until she found a place to live. Looking back, she believes that this string of events, all of which pointed her toward Utah, were not coincidental. She knows the Lord was in the details of her life.
“He was just constantly showing me, ‘This is where we need you, this is where we want you to be,’” she says in retrospect.
She recognizes this period of her life as pivotal. Her testimony grew immensely during her freshman year thanks to a bishop who took a special interest in her. She had no idea how much she would have to rely on that testimony until she returned home and discovered that her family had stopped attending church.
“It was like my bishop knew what I needed to do to grow my testimony and almost prepared me for when I went home and heard everyone had left,” she says.
It was also there at BYU that Fatima met her husband, Ben, who says he doesn’t know if he believes in love at first sight but when he saw her, there was immediately a sense of something special about her.
“She has always been kind of a lighthouse or a beacon to those around her,” Ben says. Even from the time they were college students, he noticed that people were drawn to Fatima. They came with their problems, seeking advice, direction, or comfort, and she always gave them her time.
He says this is the same thing that attracts people to her online, where she is followed by more than 188K individuals. She is not the influencer who says, “Come like my photos and I’ll never talk to you again,” he says.
“My main goal is if someone comes to my page that they feel seen and they feel loved…and know that they’re not alone. I think there are so many people right now that feel alone and they feel like they’re the only ones going through any hard trials when in reality, they’re not,” she says.
Ben says that just as she took time for others in college, he watches her do the same now.
“I think behind closed doors everyone is like, ‘Oh, Fatty’s so great,’” Ben says, “But they don’t really realize how much she does for people, how much of a light she is, how much she cares about even a random person DM’ing her or sending her a message. She puts a lot of attention into strangers, which sometimes can get me mad. But she really just cares for everyone, treats everyone with respect.”
Hannah Young of Houston, Texas still has never met Fatima in person, but she is one of those people who reached out to Fatima via Instagram.
“I had been following Fatty for months while also ‘silently investigating’ the Church. After a while, I’d finally decided it was time to just ‘go for it’ but honestly had no idea where to start! So I reached out to Fatima on Instagram because she’d just recently talked about her desire for all to know of the gospel,” Young explains.
Eleven years earlier, Young had met a Latter-day Saint family and inquired about their faith. She loved what they said so much that she researched for years, over a decade, all she could about the Church. No one really knew she was interested in the Church. In fact Young, who was raised in a deeply Evangelical household, says that she herself didn’t know how interested she actually was. But one day she offered a prayer and asked God to just show her what He wanted her to do. Minutes later, she felt the Spirit say, “Just do it.” So, she reached out to Fatima who helped her find missionaries in her area and she called them that night.
“I met with them the same evening for my first lesson and was baptized exactly a month later,” Young says. She met her husband shortly after, and they were sealed right after her one-year baptism anniversary.
“I reached out to Fatty so many times during that season for encouragement and she always had a scripture, hymn, or just a word of encouragement for me,” Young says. “I never expected for my message to actually get through to her, but it did and I’m forever grateful. Her willingness to share Christ’s gospel helped me find the path I needed to become a member of this church and my life was forever changed.”
Ben says he is aware there is a negative side of social media that focuses on comparison and can make people feel like they are not doing good enough but that for them, one baptism or one question or one meeting with the missionary really does mean a lot.
Fatima is focused on trying to share the real and the raw while also strengthening her testimony so that she can share what she believes.
“I’m not perfect at reading my scriptures or reading talks and stuff like that but for me, it’s the little things that I do that help me throughout the day,” she says. “My testimony is definitely not what it was when I came [to the United States]. [It’s] important to not only share my testimony but to nourish it and stay on top of it. I think it’s easier to be inactive than it is to be active because you have to constantly work at it. You have to constantly make an effort.”