In the months leading up to the June 2013 flooding in Southern Alberta, I had often prayed for and felt an increased desire for opportunities to share the joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ with neighbors and friends.
Two days in June brought unprecedented volumes of rain to the foothills of southern Alberta, with severe flooding of low lying areas in Calgary and nearby towns, including High River and Bragg Creek. The response by members of the Church and the larger community in coming to the aid of affected homeowners was an experience in service on a scale I had never before witnessed. I shall always remember the precious experiences I had during this time of service.
Shortly after the flooding, my recently-baptized home teaching companion and I went down to the flood zone to help. At one home, we joined with a “mucking out” crew and after about an hour, I realized that most of these volunteers were fellow Latter-day Saint men and boys from another ward, plain clothed, as the “Mormon Helping Hands” shirts were not yet widely available. The members of the family that we served were surprised to be swarmed with such service. I witnessed the joy on the faces of the affected family as what appeared to be an overwhelming clean up job was made light by many of the Church’s Helping Hands volunteers. I remarked to my home teaching companion, “This is priesthood power!”
The following week, when the hard-hit town of High River was reopened to its evacuated residents, the impression came to me to invite my neighbour, Paul, to join the cleanup efforts. We had a friendly and casual relationship, but I had not involved him in any church or family activities.
On that impulse though, I dashed out into the rain, ran across the street and rang his doorbell. Paul readily accepted the invitation and I had the opportunity then to share with him and his wife some of my experiences regarding the flood, the needs of the victims and the joy of service.
The next morning, Paul and I arrived at the command centre in an Okotoks chapel. Elder Neil Ludlow, the disaster relief missionary/coordinator from Salt Lake, briefed us on safety and prepared us to help the many people who had lost their homes and possessions. He entreated us to be kind and considerate, even if the homeowners should be upset or irrational in their grief. He reminded us that Heavenly Father knew of our service and he promised us that unexpected blessings would come to our families.
Paul and I donned our Mormon Helping Hands vests and left with our work team to gut a flooded basement. We tore out soggy dry-wall and insulation and removed damaged nonstructural framing. As the job neared completion, I found Paul picking through the heaps of muddy drywall and ruined furnishings on the front lawn. It caught my attention that he was picking out the Lego people that he noticed amidst the rubble. Paul explained that he knew how much the Lego men meant to his own eight-year-old son. “I think this was probably a great loss to the boy who lived here,” he said. Then Paul presented the muddy figures to the mother in that devastated home. Her surprise and appreciation of his kindness brightened her burdened countenance.
Our next Helping Hands assignment was an even filthier job. A pungent smell confronted us as we waded into a basement with about four inches of sludge on the floor. As we broke up and disposed of ruined furniture and clothes, we became coated with the muck. Great care was needed to avoid falling on the mud-slicked stairs. Members of the elders quorum presidency and other quorum members wrestled a heavy, slippery refrigerator up the treacherous stairs, around a difficult corner, and through an outside door. I was so pleased that Paul could witness their good humor despite the difficulty of the task. At no time during this tiring work, did we hear an unclean or unkind word. At the completion of our day of service, our dirty, but smiling team posed on the front lawn for a photo.
During the drive home, Paul talked with me about my daughters. He said they were calm and good-natured girls. “How did you teach them to be modest?” he asked. I explained that when they were little girls we taught them by clearly defining modesty. We used examples by browsing through magazines and asking them to decide which individuals were dressed modestly and which were not. I told Paul that when Hannah was nine years old, she had given a talk in church about modesty, and that those standards had been reinforced through teachings and standards at church. I remarked to him that now our teenage girls seem to govern themselves well.
As I dropped off Paul at his home, I thanked him, and we agreed that it had been a great day. Paul is a very sociable man with a great sense of humor and a talent for storytelling. I knew that he would be attending a business function at the Calgary Stampede Grandstand Show that evening, and I smiled as I contemplated what stories he would be sharing with his colleagues and family.
Two days later my wife received a text from Paul’s wife, indicating that Paul wanted to offer his help in High River again. He hoped to go with me, but if I wasn’t going, he wanted a contact person so he could hook up with a work team on his own. Later the same day when Paul came by our home to fetch his son, he mentioned how “moved” he felt by his experiences in High River that day.
On Wednesday morning, Paul and I again set out for the Okotoks chapel/command centre. As we waited in the chapel for our assignments, I showed Paul my daughter’s worn booklet, “For the Strength of Youth.” She had circled the “You” in the word “Youth” to make it read, “For the Strength of You.” I showed him the section about “Dress and Appearance,” and he read through it. He said that he liked what he saw and commented that he didn’t care for tattoos or body piercings. He perused the rest of the book. I told him how I used the book in Bishop Youth Discussions in my home. That led to a conversation about opportunities to serve in the lay ministry of the church. Paul wondered how I managed to find the time to serve and asked if I had to quit my regular job. I explained that as I gave time to the Church, it brought blessings to our family, which we call “the Lord’s law of compensation.” I shared the story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath.
Paul confided that his six-year-old daughter had expressed concern that their family didn't pray. When he reminded her that they said grace before they eat, she emphatically responded, “That doesn’t count!” Since then, Paul says he and his wife have started kneeling with the children as they say their prayers. I confirmed to him that our family receives blessings from having family prayer each morning and evening.
When Elder Ludlow’s morning briefing began, I again felt a powerful spirit. We hooked up with a team and went to the home of an elderly man who had only his son there to help him. The man suffered from asthma. That, and the weakness of his advanced age, precluded him from working in the wet moldy basement. Two previous Mormon Helping Hands teams had fully gutted the basement and we were there to finish the job by removing a coating of mud from the floor and walls. We set to work with shovels, squeegees and a pressure washer. At length, as we finished the job, the son exclaimed, “This floor is clean enough to eat off of!” We packed up our things, bid goodbye to two very happy gentlemen, and were off to our next job.
After our final assignment, Paul said that he had one more job to do. He wanted to go back to the house where he had salvaged the Lego people on Saturday. We went to their door, and Paul presented the parents with a large bag containing boxes of new Lego sets. They looked astonished by his act of kindness. Paul explained that he knew that their son had suffered a great loss, so he had taken his own eight-year-old son to the store to select some replacement sets. Then, to my surprise, Paul handed the family an envelope containing cash so they could buy something for their other son. I could tell that their hearts were overwhelmed with his kindness. We parted with them as quickly as we had come, and I felt very touched by Paul’s compassion.
We had an enjoyable ride home with good conversation as it always is with my neighbour, Paul. We had served together and learned from each other. We parted with a warm handshake and a richer friendship. How the blessings of service do multiply in God’s hands! Sometimes it is good to just act on an “impulse.”