The Best Thing We’ve Done

By and Roy A. Prete


The Promise

In 1977 the newly created Ottawa Ontario Stake was facing some unique challenges. With headquarters in Ottawa, this far-flung stake took in eastern Ontario, part of the province of Quebec, and northern New York State. The new stake thus reflected a rich ethnic composition. It included a Chinese branch in Montreal, where two missionaries from the Hong Kong Mission aided in proselyting; a bilingual (French-English) branch at Hawkesbury; and an all-Lamanite branch at Hogansburg, New York, on the St. Regis Reservation.

One of the most urgent needs of the new stake was the erection of suitable buildings, since many wards and branches were meeting in rented halls and schools. Our stake president, Boyden E. Lee, felt impressed that before the Church could accelerate its growth in the area, suitable chapels would have to be built. A five-year stake building plan was initiated, but by the end of the first year it had produced very limited results.

So the stake presidency decided on a crash program to raise the required amount in two years. President Lee agonized over this decision, wondering how, during a period of inflation and financial stress, he could ask the members of the stake for such a large amount of money in such a short time. But he knew he had to do it; there was no other choice. As he prepared for a coming special stake assembly, he said he felt impressed to pronounce a special blessing and promise upon the members of the stake and to seal that promise by the power of the priesthood.

The accelerated stake building fund program was presented at the stake conference. Adult members of the Church had been asked to fast and pray before coming to the conference. At the close of that meeting, President Lee did indeed pronounce a special blessing on the members of the stake and promised them that if they would do all they could, the Lord would open doors to enable them to meet their building-fund assessments. This promise was sealed upon each member of the stake by the power of the priesthood.

The results were truly remarkable. Many received the help promised. For example, a young returned missionary, unable to find work for eight months, was skeptical when his bishop suggested a certain amount for his contribution. He told the Lord, however, that if he had an income he would willingly pay the assessment—and more if it were required of him. The first employer he approached that day offered him a permanent job and he started work the next day. Two days later he was given a significant increase in pay.

A businessman who was in the process of closing down his operation suddenly conceived a way to improve his product. He immediately went to work on it, soon went into full production, and reported a sales volume higher than ever before.

One member was seated in his government office wondering how he could possibly pay the amount suggested by his bishop. As he prayed for guidance, the idea came to him, “Just ask for a raise in pay; that’s all you need to do.” So vivid was the message that he did just that. Calculating what he could pay from his own resources, he promptly applied for a raise equal to the amount he yet needed. To his surprise, his request was approved. Moreover, it was made retroactive for a year, enabling him to meet his obligation much earlier than he had thought possible.

A mother of four knelt with her family around their kitchen table and prayed for help in paying their assessment. That evening she received a phone call from a neighbor lady, asking if she would tend her small children on a regular daily basis. Some six weeks earlier the sister’s offer to tend these same children had been refused on the grounds that her fee was too high. The neighbor explained that she had been strongly impressed that afternoon that this sister would provide the most loving care of any person she had considered, and this was worth whatever fee the member wanted to charge.

One brother who had once been a prisoner of war had to withdraw money from his savings account—money which had been set aside for another special purpose. Then he learned of a pension for Canadian prisoners of war and found that he qualified. In fact, he was awarded the pension retroactively, and the cumulative amount was slightly in excess of the amount he had withdrawn to pay his building assessment.

Many others reported similar experiences. Jobs were found, promotions were obtained, seemingly worthless investments became profitable, bank accounts long since forgotten were discovered, and inheritances were received.

Two years after the challenge was issued, over $800,000 had been raised for the stake building fund. Five chapels have since been completed, and four more are under construction. When these buildings are completed, each of the sixteen wards and branches of the stake will indeed have a modern chapel.

The refrain from the familiar hymn that “sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven” (Hymns, no. 147) has been richly felt throughout the stake. Our accelerated building program is now bearing fruit in increased spirituality and convert baptisms. On 6 July 1980, only three and a half years after its creation, the stake was divided into the Ottawa Ontario Stake and the Montreal Quebec Mount Royal Stake, thus laying the foundation for future growth and development.

Roy A. Prete, assistant professor of history at the Royal Military College of Canada, serves as bishop’s counselor in the Kingston Ward; Sister Carma T. Prete is Primary president in the Ottawa Ontario Stake. The couple have five children.