SPARTANBURG — For one Union native, a childhood hobby later became a way to minister to others and strengthen her own relationship with God.
When Jackie Jeter was a young girl, she had a desire to model and design clothing. She created her first baby doll outfit when she was 9, hand sewing with needle and thread. At age 11, Jeter got a sewing machine.
“My dolls would never wear the same outfit twice,” she said. “I loved making clothes for my dolls. It was my favorite pastime as a child. I can recall cutting my father’s newspaper to make new design patterns.”
People began to realize Jeter’s talent and she began to get requests to make clothes for her friends and family members. Her days of making clothes for dolls were over for the time being.
Jeter graduated from Union High School and went on to attend Allen University, the Art Institute of Atlanta and Buffet Modeling School in Columbia. While she was attending college, Jeter continued to hone her talent and began hosting fashion shows.
As time passed, however, Jeter’s confidence and drive dwindled.
“Approaching adulthood, I had many challenges in my life,” she said, describing a portion of her life in which she became overwhelmed with doubt and confusion.
“I was going through hurt and pain, and I was having an identity crisis. God was showing me that I had a lot of disappointment in my life; I had a lot of healing that needed to take place before he could use me.”
During that time, Jeter said she would go into her room to escape.
“While in the room I had total peace,” she said. “I would have my gospel music playing and I would be in the presence of the Lord. Sometimes without the music I could still feel the presence of the Lord.”
Jeter said she asked God to show her who she was, and that’s when something happened that changed her life.
“I began to cry,” she said. “He took the focus off what others were doing to me and put the focus on what I was doing to me. He showed me things I had done wrong, and I could no longer point the finger at others. Of course that wasn’t the answer I was seeking, but God was ready for me to be healed.”
While in her room, listening to gospel music and embracing the presence of the Lord, Jeter developed a vision for her journey to come. As she studied the word of God, a vision developed for Jeter that intertwined what she was learning with the talent she had since childhood. Jeter was led to purchase fabric, and she began to do something she hadn’t thought of since she was a child — she made clothes for her dolls.
While reading Luke 15:10, Jeter decided to make an “Angel Doll.” After reading Galatians 5:22, she made a “Fruits of the Spirit Doll.” Before she knew it, she had made a total of 14 dolls with elaborately detailed outfits. She said the important part was, however, they all had meaning and scripture to accompany them. Jeter said each doll represents an area in which God ministered to her.
“All these areas are where He wanted me to grow at the time, and now, it’s for everybody,” Jeter said. “I want people to know the dolls are for learning. Look at the name, the chapter and the verse. That’s the spirit of God; He loves us. Each doll makes you want to learn more about it.”
Jeter finished the dolls in 2004, and since then, she formed her own ministry, using them as props to teach others. She named them “Dolls of Purpose.” She has taken her ministry to churches, homeless shelters and even television by way of The Peggy Denny Show.
Eight years after she finished the dolls, Jeter met Spartanburg Regional History Museum Director Nannie Jefferies while visiting the museum located inside the Chapman Cultural Center. After several conversations with Jeter, Jefferies’ curiosity about the dolls grew. The conversations led to Jefferies visiting Jeter’s home to see the dolls in person.
“I was amazed she had captured and created so many of these dolls,” Jefferies said. “I was overwhelmed. Her humble spirit as she talked about each doll, she knew what they represented — the meaning. And they were not for sale.”
“She said right off the bat, ‘I want five to put in the museum,’” Jeter added. “I almost broke down. To think, just last year, I thought about taking them to a flea market and selling them one by one.”
Jefferies explained she was impressed with Jeter’s level of creativity, but especially her purpose.
“The dolls have a special meaning because of Jackie, the doll maker,” Jefferies said. “She evolved, and the creativity in the dolls is also beautiful. If not for the dolls, I don’t know if she would realize the talent she has.”
Jeter said she hopes to encourage others to look to the word of God and realize that God can speak through anyone.
“It all has to do with faith,” Jeter said. “I honestly believe what God wants is for us to go deeper into our faith.”
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.