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The following was written by Kerry Harding for the ‘Missionary Moment’ series curated by Mark Albright.
Over 10 years ago, during the last week in September, I was in Provo, Utah, overseeing the renovations of a house in the Historic District I had recently purchased. One of the more major projects was having the 100-year old windows replaced with ones that would maintain the historic character of the house while providing the inherent qualities of energy efficiency and operability.
From the start, nothing went right with this job. Because the sills had rotted away through the years, custom ones had to be created. The window order got lost at the manufacturer’s headquarters and production was delayed for over a month. When the windows finally arrived, some were not the size that had been ordered. Others didn’t fit because the original measurements had been wrong.
As Jason, the guy assigned to install the job, got into the project, he discovered that the solid brick walls were crumbling around the window frames and needed to be re-mortared. In another case, a bathroom addition, completed during the 1940s, had a shower stall wall with nothing behind it but empty space where another window frame was supposed to go.
The original 1904 rubble walls of the basement were so out of square that the windows that were made for that location did not fit. To Jason’s surprise, as he removed the old windows, he found that the “insulation” was pieces of old cotton print dresses that had been shoved in the cracks to keep out the wind.
Nevertheless, Jason, this gentle, patient young man who inspired such confidence in me when I had first met him, never wavered in his enthusiasm for the project, his assurance that he would make everything work and his promise that he would not leave the job until everything was done correctly and I was happy.
As I painted alongside him and his helper, Isaac, each day, I got to know him pretty well. Jason had grown up in Utah, attending college for a while to study accounting, then realized that a desk job was not for him and went into construction. He was friendly, outgoing, honest, pleasant and hardworking—just like everyone else I had dealt with that week. I assumed that he had been a member of the Church all his life.
Isaac, on the other hand, in his mid-20s, had had a hard life. He had just gotten out of jail a month before for drunken driving in a stolen car, had been in a drug rehabilitation center for a cocaine addiction and had pretty much run wild for most of his teenage years. I assumed that he was not a church member.
One day, as I was talking to Jason, he said something that struck me as kind of unusual. I asked, “Jason, aren’t you LDS?”
“No,” he said kind of apologetically, “I’m not. My wife is but she’s not active. I’ll probably get baptized someday though.”
Later, as I was talking to Isaac, I asked “Are you Mormon, Isaac?” To my surprise, he answered, “Yes, I am…but I haven’t been to church since I was 12. I’ve kind of gotten off track with my life. I think things are finally heading in the right direction.”
All that day, I thought about the perceptions I had had about each of these men—and how wrong I had been about both of them. I had made the assumption that, at least in Utah, for someone to be happy, clean-cut and polite, they must be members of the Church. Conversely to that, if they were not those things, then they must not be. I felt bad, and the phrase “judge not, that ye be not judged,” popped into my head.
As the window project was coming to a close, I felt the need to show my appreciation to Jason for going the extra mile to ensure my job turned out well in spite of the amount of time he had to spend beyond that for which he’d been compensated. I bought him a cordless nail gun set. He was thrilled beyond words. But, in addition to that, I was strongly prompted by the Spirit to get him a set of scriptures…and not just any scriptures, but the best ones—a dark green leather set (to match his pickup truck) with his name imprinted in gold leaf on the front.
As I presented it to him on my last day there, I told him, “Jason, more than anyone I know, you know the importance of having the right tools for the job. I know from talking to you that you want to be a great husband and father, and that you want your young son and daughter to be happy. These tools will help you accomplish that and, someday, when you’re ready for them, I hope these will come in handy.”
He was stunned. Gently feeling the imprint of his name on the cover, he said simply, “Thanks…thanks a lot.”
As I boarded the plane to fly home, I thought about this moment, and how missionary opportunities can come at times and in places that we least expect. In my mind, I had thought of many, many reasons why giving Jason these scriptures was a bad idea. Regardless of what common sense told me, I knew the Spirit was prompting me to do something very specific. Though I don’t know why but I do know that the Lord loves Jason and after spending a week with him, I had come to love him too. Who knows if the Lord put me there, as the song says, “For just such a time as this?” Time will tell.
Kerry B. Harding