“Six Days Shalt Thou Labor”


The sun is high in the sky over John Bangura’s blacksmith shop in Sierra Leone, Africa; the heat is intense. Inside, sweat blurs Brother Bangura’s vision momentarily as he pumps the bellows, causing the fire to crackle and flare. A narrow strip of metal glows red-hot in reaction to the fiery blast. Moments later, the metal yields to the repeated pounding of a mallet and becomes an axe.

Fifty-nine years ago, widow Clara Esplin Spencer and her children labored under the hot sun on their family farm in Utah. Sweat sometimes blurred their vision as they milked the cows, fed the pigs, and hoed the garden. Sister Spencer’s children eventually went to college, following their mother’s love for learning. “She taught seminary,” her children remember. “She was a student and always found time to read.”

What do a modern-day African blacksmith and a turn-of-the-century farm widow have in common? Work!

We work for many reasons. Generally, the most immediate reason is to feed, clothe, and house ourselves and the ones we love. But work also gives us an opportunity to develop and practice skills and talents. Further, it also can be a journey we take to find out who we really are and the kind of world in which we want to live.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints build houses, plant crops, and work in offices and at home like everyone else.

But we also work for another reason—to help build the kingdom of God on the earth. We want to help create a place where people can love and work for each other in the same way Heavenly Father loves and works for us.

Prophets have taught us that work goes hand in hand with godliness. Heavenly Father created us in his image and encouraged us to become like him. Indeed, when we use our hands and minds, in a sense we continue to build and extend God’s earthly creations. Daily work can be seen as sacred because we are working with and caring for the creations of God.

Latter-day Saints have always believed there was something important about work. “We are not called upon to build up Zion by preaching, singing and praying alone,” said President Wilford Woodruff on 12 January 1873. “We have to perform hard labor, labor of bone and sinew in building towns, cities, villages. … If we do this as a people we shall grow in the favor and the power of God.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 15, p. 283.)

Work discloses something essential about human identity and dignity that transcends time and culture. Thus, today members of the Church come from many countries and pursue a great diversity of work. Yet what remains constant among us is a commitment to work to build up the Lord’s kingdom and his children here on earth.

The following photographs, artifacts, and paintings are taken from the Museum of Church History and Art exhibit, “‘Six Days Shalt Thou Labor’: Latter-day Saints and Work.” They remind us that we can help to build up the kingdom of God and his children every day as we do our work of building, feeding, teaching, serving, and healing.

[photos] Far left: A carpenter’s auger. Lower right: An axe made by Brother Bangura. (Tool photography by Ronald W. Read.) [illustration] Inset: And the Child Grew and Waxed Strong, Walter Rane’s painting of Jesus and Joseph.

[photo] John Bangura in the doorway of his blacksmith shop in Sierra Leone, Africa. (Photo by Robert Stum.)

[photo] Lovenia Beard bathing her children, Coalville, Utah, circa 1900. (Photo by George Beard, BYU Photo Archives.)

[photos] Above: Campaign ribbon of British politician Terry Rooney, now a member of the House of Commons of Great Britain. Inset: Brother Terry Rooney campaigning in Bradford, England. [illustration] Right: Welfare Project, a painting by Earl Jones, of Latter-day Saints in a Church welfare activity.

[photo] With law books, a legal pad with court notes, and a gavel as her tools, Judge Sharon McCully works to help young people who get into trouble. Sister McCully serves in the Third District Juvenile Court in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Welden Andersen.)

[photos] Left: Miners Peter Peterson and Hans Erastus Peterson. This photo was taken after the brothers came out of the mine. Below: A canoe built by the people of the village of Kuriva, Papua New Guinea. Most of the people in this village are members of the Church. They work together to take care of their village, grow crops, wash clothes, build homes, and carve canoes. (Photo by Ronald W. Read.)

[photo] In this Guatemalan village, members of the Church work together to build an adobe meetinghouse. (Photo by Craig Dimond.)

[illustrations] Right: Children learn the value of work in this painting by Judith Mehr titled Family Garden. Below right: Farmer, a sculpture by Mahonri Young, shows the importance of preparation before work as this farmer sharpens his scythe before the harvest.

[photo] Members of the Padada Philippines Branch participate in a basket-making cooperative. Sales of the baskets in America have provided jobs and income for many of the branch members. (Photo by Marvin K. Gardner.)

[photo] Dr. Mary Beard works as an obstetrician in Salt Lake City, Utah, and teaches medicine at the University of Utah. (Photo by Robert O. Davis.)

[photos] Brother Jarkko Metsätähti of Finland, shown here with his family, creates and sells educational computer software throughout the world. A keyboard, disk, and software are the tools of his business. (Photo by Welden Andersen.)

Steven Epperson, history curator at the Museum of Church History and Art, serves as Blazer A teacher in the Riverside Ward, Salt Lake Riverside Stake.