I didn’t feel much like an expert, but the four men in the small room looked at me as if I were. Reggie, Robert, Charles, and Don, the district president: they needed my help in getting their new chapel built, and I’d been sent for that purpose.
But there are times when the expert doesn’t have any answers. What could I tell these men who had asked for my advice about raising the needed funds? Certainly the approved way was by member contributions. But these members said they were incapable of such contributions—or at least they seemed to be. Even the richest among them appeared poor.
But I could think of no other solution. I said, “Of course, you’ll need to get the money from the members.”
They nodded, but said nothing. They knew I hadn’t really solved their problem.
So I took it a step further. “It seems essential that each of you make your own personal commitment first,” I said.
“How much do you suggest?” Don asked.
“For an opener, I’d suggest about fifty pounds.” I could tell by their expressions that I had struck too deep.
“As with the leader, so with the people,” I reminded them. “You cannot ask others to do what you yourself are reluctant to do. After you have made your own commitment, the Lord will help. With that, good planning, and hard work, anything can be done.” They nodded, but I could see they had some reservations. Two of the men had retired on small pensions, and the other two, one a contractor and the other a day worker, had families and small incomes.
Following the meeting, Don drove me back to my hotel, with Charles accompanying us. As I got out of the car, Charles looked at Don and said, “I’ll catch a bus from here. I need to talk with Brother Walton.”
“Right-o,” Don replied. “I will pick you up at seven so that we can get to our meeting on time.” He was smiling, but the worry that had come into his eyes at the suggestion of a fifty-pound donation was still there.
Charles and I went up the steps of the hotel veranda and sat down on wicker chairs. I looked into his face and saw a lifetime of grinding toil behind him. We sat there and rocked and looked across the street to the big green park and the Indian Ocean beyond.
At last he spoke. “About the money: I’m on a fixed pension and I have no other source of income. My health is poor. My wife and I struggle every month to make ends meet. I can honestly see no way to pledge anything—fifty pounds or even less.” He was a humble man, and I regretted having placed him in this position; I also felt his regret that he was not able to carry his share of our burden. “My lot is no better than most. It may be that we should wait awhile before we attempt such a huge undertaking,” he said sadly.
I said nothing—it was certainly not my place to pressure Charles—but I must admit that my mind began to reflect over the many pages of history written about the efforts of people who achieved the impossible. I finally said, “May I suggest that you talk this over with your wife and pray about it. It’s really between you and the Lord, not with me or anyone else.”
Charles stood and we shook hands. He was a small, pale man, with very little strength in his hands, but there was sincerity in his eyes. He walked down the sweeping wooden steps; as he crossed the street he must have felt my eyes on him, for he turned and waved.
I was about to go to my room when Reggie drove up, waved, and parked his car. He was young and wiry and came up the steps two at a time. He told me of his small business, his young children, the lack of work, and finally that he simply could not see his way clear to pledge fifty pounds.
I gripped his shoulder. “Let me suggest that you discuss this with your family and with the Lord. You are not wanting to build this church for me, but for the Lord. Perhaps he has a way in mind for you. But most of all, don’t be depressed. No one expects you to do more than you are capable of doing.”
Reggie was in a hurry, and there was obviously nothing more that I could say. I knew that unless these leaders made their own commitments, their people could not be expected to respond. I did not have much time to think about Reggie; before my visitor was out of sight a young hotel employee called me to the phone.
The caller was Robert. He was a retired postal worker, a fine man, and a recent convert. He talked slowly and he repeated, over the wires, almost word for word what Charles had said. “We have only a small pension … fixed income. …”
I was standing in the lobby at the reception desk. There were other people around and I felt I should not discuss Robert’s finances in a public place. I agreed with all that he said, then reminded him, “But there is someone else that you need to talk to besides me.”
There was a pause, then he answered, “I understand. I will see you at the meeting.”
The members filled the small, red brick building they called their church. We closed all of the windows, but still the neighbor’s radio blared through the wall. It was the usual meeting, with few surprises. Despite the events of the previous afternoon, I wasn’t even surprised when the president and his counselors announced that they would each pledge fifty pounds for the new building. Their talks, though short, rang with sincerity, and the audience was moved to participate.
I returned to Sydney the following day with confidence. The money would be collected; the building would be built. All that remained for me to arrange was a Church building supervisor. I wired Salt Lake City asking them to send one.
The first few weekly reports from Perth were not encouraging. Money was being pledged, but not enough. Soon I decided to make another visit to see when they would be ready to start construction. Certainly I did not want a supervisor sitting in Perth with no building to build. I sent a wire to Don, and one week later I sat down again with the same four men. This time there was a definite air of excitement among them that had not been there before. I began to speculate, gave up, and asked Reggie to give his report.
“I didn’t see how I could possibly raise the fifty pounds, but my wife and I decided to make the pledge anyhow and hope things would work out. After pledging the fifty pounds, I contacted a nursery to see what I could do. I got a contract to bring in wild flower seeds—we have the most beautiful flowers in the world here in Western Australia. I was lucky; the nursery had just received a request for these seeds from a United States company. My family and I have given our Saturdays and every possible hour after work to gathering them. We have not only raised our pledge money, but we’ve also received some side benefits from the work. The children enjoyed the family outing as well as the opportunity to earn extra money. We have started some projects of our own at home that we could never afford before.” He looked at each of us and smiled, “It sure has worked out well for us!”
Next Robert gave his report. He crossed his legs and, with a quiet smile, leaned forward and began to speak.
“Like Reggie, I just didn’t know how I was going to meet that commitment. I spent some time before and after that meeting in conversation with the Lord—I really needed help. Well, the next morning I received a letter from an old friend. His son had been admitted to the university here, and he needed room and board. Now that our children are married and gone, we have an extra room. The boy has been with us for the past two weeks, and he has brought light and sunshine into our home. He’s a fine lad, and we are happy to have him with us. He has no church ties, so he’s started coming with us.”
“What about your pledge?” Don asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Oh, yes! Well, his father sent us fifty pounds in advance for his school year. It will be fairly easy to add what little he eats to what Mum and I need—especially with our garden as it is growing now.” He smiled at us, and I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Turns out we not only got the money, we got extra sunshine in our lives as well,” he said.
Don turned to Charles. “Let’s hear from you now.”
“I was also at my wit’s end. I could not conceive of how I would ever raise the fifty pounds I committed for the Lord’s house. I, too, spent a fair time telling the Lord of my problem and asking his help to meet my commitments.
“I was in town the morning after that meeting, and, as I crossed the street, a truck came by with a load of reinforcing bars extending well beyond the bed of the truck. I nearly walked into them—and I wasn’t the only one. Several other people had equally narrow escapes. I was so angry that he hadn’t tied a warning flag on the ends of the bars that when I got home I called the chief of police. He told me that there was an ordinance requiring red flags, but it had not been enforced because no flags were available for the truckers.”
Charles took a deep excited breath, then continued. “As of now, my wife and I have bought up all the red cloth in town. It’s all cut into the legal size; she sews a seam and I thread a piece of stout twine through it for tying it to the loads. I contacted some of the truckers, and we have more orders than I can possibly fill. More than that, our usually dull days have turned productive and we have established a little business that will be lucrative long after the building is completed. Yes, we have met our commitment; and we will have the strength to do even more now.” He sat back with a satisfied smile that had in it more than a tinge of gratitude.
Don was the next to give his report.
“That Monday morning following our fund-raising meeting, I went to an early morning sales meeting. Afterwards, I overheard our store manager complain about the lack of honest, competent help to take inventory. I stepped forward and volunteered four people—my wife, my two oldest daughters, and myself. We’ve already received our first check, the fifty pounds that we agreed to work for. In six months we’ll take inventory again—just in time to meet the next needs. Oh, and one more thing: our work has brought me favorably to the attention of my superiors. I have already received a pay raise and I was told that I’m next in line for promotion.”
I looked at the men in the room, each of whom had found a way to honor his commitment—with the Lord’s help. And then I knew as never before that even though I may have felt inadequate as an expert, the Lord is never inadequate as a helper. The good Saints in Perth had responded to the challenge with obedience and effort. In turn, the Lord had responded by opening the windows of heaven and pouring out blessings.