Signs and Blessings


Just two years after my brother Steve and I started a graphic arts and sign business, the building was destroyed by fire. We didn’t have the money—or the heart—to start over again, but our respective wards rallied together with time, tools, equipment, and funds to help us rebuild.

We were grateful for the incredible generosity our friends showed us, and although the help we received from ward members was substantial, we still lacked money to purchase some necessary but expensive equipment and to provide operating capital. We applied for—and were granted—a Small Business Administration loan to cover those costs. In the next few years, we worked hard to expand the company.

In early 1983, however, interest rates on home mortgages began rising at an alarming rate. A large fraction of our business came from supplying builders with signage, so as people stopped buying homes and builders stopped building houses, we no longer found a demand for our services.

For the next year we struggled to stay on top of our bills. Soon we began to miss our loan payments, and eventually, we had to stop paying them altogether. When we received a foreclosure notice, we were devastated at the prospect of losing everything again.

We decided to participate in a program that could potentially save struggling businesses like ours; it involved retired business owners from our industry coming to do an on-site evaluation. Several men came and spent a week with us going over every aspect of our business, from sales to production to shipping to billing. They spent hours reviewing our books to identify ways to save money.

Finally, they came to my brother and me to present their findings. Their first recommendation was that we reduce our salary. We told them we had already cut back as much as we could. They then asked us why we were giving 10 percent of our income to a church when we were in such a dire situation. We explained the law of tithing to them and emphasized our strong belief in the principle and our commitment to observing it. They were taken aback by our response and then told us that we should take the 10 percent and put it back into our business. When we refused, they informed us that their only option was to inform the loan officers that we were unwilling to cooperate and recommend foreclosure. Although we explained that we would do anything else they required of us, they insisted that unless we reconsidered, they would be forced to submit a negative report.

The next few weeks were full of apprehension. We didn’t know how much longer we could keep operating, and while Steve and I both did everything we could to generate new income, we still fell short.

One day we received a call from the Los Angeles Olympic Committee. We had contacted the LAOC a year earlier to inquire about signage needs for the 1984 Olympic Games, but when our calls were not returned, we assumed our company was too small to be of any help for the huge event. Now, just three months before the games were to begin, the committee asked us if we were interested in bidding on a “graphics package.” Some of the nation’s biggest and most prestigious sign companies were represented at the bidding, and as the scope of the project was explained to us, I began to realize that this was probably beyond our company’s capabilities. Nevertheless, I accepted the task of producing several extensive banners to be used as “fence wraps”—some as large as 11 feet by 100 feet. I asked Heavenly Father to help us find a way to do this job. We really needed this work, but it seemed nearly impossible for a company our size to even consider taking it.

When Steve and I reviewed the requirements of the project together, we realized there was no possible way for us to complete it. I decided to return the plans to the committee the next day.

But Steve came into work the next morning very excited about an idea that had come to him. Steve realized that the banners should not be screen printed, as was the common production method, but that they should be painted using an automatic spraying system. The idea was untested, and the equipment did not exist. But the committee was intrigued by Steve’s idea and gave us enough funding to build the special machinery and produce one prototype banner for approval.

In the weeks that followed, we designed, engineered, and built a machine that automatically traveled down an area on steel tracks, like a train. Seven high-pressure, airless spray nozzles were attached to the system and could move to vary the width of the sprayed pattern. Finally, 20 high-volume fans suspended from the ceiling helped dry the banner.

When the committee came to inspect our sample, they couldn’t believe what they saw: not only was the banner beautiful, but it had been completed in a fraction of the time it had taken others. The committee was so pleased they awarded us the contract for the entire banner project.

The contract from the Olympic committee turned out to bring in many times the amount we owed for the loan. It didn’t make sense for the committee to call a small company like ours, but they did. It didn’t make sense for us to know how to build this machine, but we did. Logically, this machine shouldn’t have worked flawlessly for three months, but it did. We should not have been able to complete the project on time, but we did. Steve and I were both thrilled and humbled because we knew where the inspiration to build the device had come from and were grateful for the blessings that came from obeying the law of tithing.

The Blessings of Tithing

Elder Robert D. Hales

“The temporal and spiritual blessings of tithing are specifically tailored to us and our families, according to the Lord’s will. But to receive them, we must obey the law upon which they are predicated [see D&C 130:21]. … If you are one who has doubted the blessings of tithing, I encourage you to accept the Lord’s invitation to ‘prove [Him] now herewith.’ Pay your tithing. Unlock the windows of heaven. You will be abundantly blessed for your obedience and faithfulness to the Lord’s laws and commandments.” Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Tithing: A Test of Faith with Eternal Blessings,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 27–28.

[photos] Photographs furnished by Dennis Williams

[illustration] Illustrated by Sam Lawlor

Dennis Williams is a member of the Santa Susana Second Ward, Simi Valley California Stake.