In 1957 a severe and extended drought held central Mexico in its unyielding grip. The animals were starving, crops were failing and farmers were forced to abandon their dusty fields and to head into the cities to find scarce work. Such were the conditions there when my father was called on a mission to build eight meetinghouses for his church in that country.
A plan was devised whereby young men who were unemployed would be called as building missionaries for two years. Local church members would provide their food and housing and in that manner pay their share of the construction costs. Each man could specialize in a particular field of work and, when his mission was completed, would have acquired skills as a carpenter, a mason, a plumber or an electrician and could then find employment in one or more of those fields.
It was a win-win situation and the system worked well. However, local church leaders found that it was not just young men who needed something to do. Occasionally an older man would be called and sent into the building mission. One such man was Octavio Paredes. I’ll call him that because I don’t remember his real name. But I do remember the day that he and several others came into our home in Monterrey prior to being sent out to where they would be working.
Nearly every home in Monterrey had a separate maid’s quarters that provided a small bedroom, toilet and shower facilities. Ours was no exception. When the men arrived, each was provided with soap, clean clothes and a towel and was instructed to shower and change prior to coming into the house for dinner. My mother put a hearty meal on the table knowing that they would be hungry after their long bus trips from their homes.
The men delayed their coming and the food was getting cold. Mother asked Dad to find out what was taking so long. When he went out to the maid’s quarters he found the men, with consternation written all over their downcast faces, standing around wondering what to do. They didn’t know how to turn the water on in the shower. None of them had running water in the dirt-floored homes from which they had come.
Octavio proved to be somewhat of a problem. He was old, arthritic and had limited capacity to do the kinds of physical work needed in the building trade. Dad’s first inclination was to send him back home. However, after an interview with the man, my father found a poor man of great faith whose only desire was to contribute in some small way to “the building of the kingdom.” Besides that, he had nothing to do at home but be a burden to his family. Dad sent him out to a job site along with the others.
The site supervisor tried Octavio in several types of work, none of which panned out. Then a thought occurred to him. Scattered all over the worksite were bent nails that had been discarded on the ground while building forms for pouring concrete. He gave Octavio the task of collecting those nails and straightening them to be used again. Octavio fashioned a rustic workbench from boards and saw horses, found a bucket upon which to sit and settled into the shade to straighten nails with the help of an old, rusty hammer. He was a happy man having found something within his capacity that he could do to contribute.
I’m reminded of the two stone cutters who were shaping the stones to be used to build a great cathedral. When asked what he was doing, one stone cutter said, “I’m chiseling on this rock.” When the other stone cutter was asked what he was doing, he replied, “I’m building a great cathedral to the glory of God.”
It is written, “Be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.” (D&C 64:33)
When that building was completed, Octavio was just as proud as they who had poured the concrete, laid the brick or fashioned the pews. He had made his contribution to the work. It is my hope that each of us can use the talents that we have been given, whether great or small, to improve our own lot in life and to make a positive contribution to the world around us.