While serving a mission in Bolivia, I was confronted for the first time by extreme poverty. As I saw the difficult circumstances the people I taught labored under, I began to wonder how God could exact tithing and needed Sunday work-time from his children. Many of them worked twelve hour days, seven days a week, and still couldn’t pay their bills. I often felt bewildered as I taught the Ten Commandments and the law of tithing. How could they be expected to feed their families on 90 percent of their income, working six days a week instead of seven?
For four and a half months, my questions went unanswered. Then came a transfer to the tropical city of Santa Cruz and, with it, a new companion. Sister Hurtado had dark skin, short black hair, bright eyes, and was well under five feet tall. She had been a missionary for less than a week, and I felt I would need to teach her a lot about missionary work.
During our first week together we taught a family the discussion on the Ten Commandments. Both husband and wife and one son worked in the family store on Sundays. I had previously encouraged them to attend Sunday meetings, and they were sending the son who was not tending the store. They felt they could afford to send only one family member to church.
When we asked them to commit to keeping the Ten Commandments, they began making the familiar excuses. I knew the struggle they had to pay for necessities. How could I explain that some blessings could not be seen or calculated into the month’s budget? I felt confused. Then, humbly, my new companion began to tell the story of her own family’s decision to obey the commandments.
Sister Hurtado’s mother was a widow who supported her four children by what they made from a store they ran in their home. Sunday was the day the family did the most business. They lived across from a movie theater, and moviegoers would stop at their store to buy treats. They also sold cooking oil in bulk, and their customers always called on Sunday.
The missionaries taught and baptized the whole family. The Sunday morning following their baptisms, Sister Hurtado asked her mother who was to stay at home to tend the store. She was shocked by her mother’s response. “We are closing the store for the whole day. We are now members of the Lord’s church, and we will keep his commandments.”
Sister Hurtado reminded her mother that they would lose their best business, but her mother was firm in her decision to honor her covenant with the Lord.
They closed the store that Sunday and every Sunday thereafter. To Sister Hurtado’s surprise, they did not lose the business of those who had bought oil on Sunday. Their customers learned to come on other days to buy. In fact, their overall sales increased, even though the family was working six days instead of seven.
As the weeks went by, my companion repeated her story many times. Gradually, I began to understand why God would require so much of his children. As we exercise the necessary faith to obey the commandments, we actually put ourselves in a position where we can receive God’s blessings. His blessings are not always tangible, but he does help us overcome our problems.
I began to look for people who had cultivated faith and made it a power in their lives, and I discovered many examples. In Cochabamba I heard a woman bear her testimony of tithing. The preceding month, after paying tithing and major expenses, she had only a hundred pesos (equivalent to $1) for food for the month. She didn’t know how she would make it, but she had faith that the Lord would provide.
On the way to the market to see what she could buy, she ran into her niece, who asked her to accompany her to buy cloth. The woman went, not mentioning her embarrassing situation.
As she was waiting for her niece to make her purchase, a man walking by called to her, “Senora, your money!”
Puzzled, she turned to see the man pointing to her purse. As she looked down, she saw one thousand pesos on top of her purse! She had not seen or heard anyone walk near her. The money seemed to have come from nowhere.
That day, her niece invited her to eat lunch with her, and she gratefully accepted. One of her sisters offered her an extra bag of vegetables and potatoes, and another sister also shared generously with her. She had plenty during the month.
These examples taught me that I didn’t need to worry about the sacrifice it would take for people to pay their tithing or keep the Sabbath day holy. I simply needed to help the people I taught develop faith and put it to the test. If they could develop faith in the promises of the Lord, he would help them overcome any problem or circumstance.
I remember often the many examples of the power of faith that I saw in Bolivia. I have never been in a situation where I knew I wouldn’t have enough money to eat if I paid my tithing. My temptations are more subtle. But I draw strength when I remember that first comes obedience to the Lord’s commandments and faith in his promises, and then come the blessings, proportionate to the degree of faith and sacrifice.
After reading “The Faith to Obey,” you may want to consider or discuss the following questions and ideas:
Which commandments or gospel principles seem most difficult for you to obey?
How could greater faith enable you to make the sacrifices necessary to obey those commandments?
In the past, how have you experienced the Lord’s blessings for obedience?
Are the Lord’s blessings always tangible? What other kinds of blessings do we receive?
Commitment to obey is often rewarded with the ability to obey. How could you put this principle to the test in your own life?