Tithing Came First


“Should we pay our tithing or make our farm payment?”

That was the dilemma facing my father, Henry L. Smith, in 1920. A few years earlier, he and his family, along with other Latter-day Saints, had been driven from the Mormon colonies in Mexico. Later, he and Mama were among the first to settle the tiny LDS community of Virden, New Mexico.

Those Latter-day Saint farmers were hard-working people. And they trusted in the Lord. If it rained, they made it; if it didn’t rain, they didn’t make it. Our family was not prosperous—at least not in worldly goods. Daddy had less than thirty acres; a few sacks of grain was usually about all we had to show for a whole year’s work. But we were prosperous in our love for each other and in spiritual blessings from our Father in Heaven.

After faith and prayers and lots of hard work, we had a good wheat harvest in 1920. But the demand and the selling price were very low. Everybody was poor. Through bartering, we had enough to eat. But the farm payment had to be cash. And there simply wasn’t much of that anywhere.

Now the mortgage payment was due. Since several families had purchased the farmland as a group, dividing it up among the various families, they all had to make their payments on the same day. And it was important that no one default—or everyone’s property would be in jeopardy. If someone couldn’t come through with his share, the others would put in what they could to make up the difference. But since everyone was in essentially the same financial situation, it was hard to be the one who couldn’t pay.

In those days, my parents, like most farmers then, had to wait until harvest time to pay their tithing. Unfortunately, the farm payment came due at the same time of year as tithing settlement. We could pay one or the other but not both. Daddy did have several sacks of wheat he could sell to make up the difference—but no interested buyers.

“We felt we had to pay our tithing, but we could not fail with our land payment,” he wrote in his journal. “We went to the Lord and placed our problem before Him. When we were through, we had the impression we should pay our tithing first.”

Virden is a small town where everybody knows everybody. And because it is off the beaten track, few people pass through. But, according to Daddy’s record, a few days after he had paid the tithing, “a man whom I had never seen before came and purchased all of our wheat at a good price. We now had the money for our land payment.”

Where the man came from or where he went, Daddy never found out. Nor did he learn why the man was willing to pay such a good price when grain was available elsewhere. His journal entry ends with a simple, yet powerful, expression of faith: “We felt the Lord had a way of taking care of us if we were faithful and put our trust in him.”

The Lord had indeed opened the windows of heaven and poured us out a blessing.

[illustration] Illustrated by Scott Snow

Osborne N. Smith, a property manager, is the music director of the Mesa Arizona Lehi Stake and the Lehi Fourth Ward.