At 6:30 the alarm goes off. You groan, fling back the covers before you can change your mind, listen for your companion stirring in the next bunk, and head for the bathroom to splash some cold water on your face. You’re still tired from the day before, and as you think about what lies ahead of you today, you stare at your mirrored reflection and ask, “Can I do this?”
Before you begin your daily gospel study, you wander out to the door, open it, check the weather, and glance at the woods that cover the nearby hill. Awake now, you remember the satisfaction of yesterday’s hard work, of discovering just how much you really are capable of, and you say to yourself, “Yeah, I can do this!”
Turning back you say good morning to Brother Smith … and Brother Heinrich … and Brother Ray … and …
If you hadn’t already seen the photos on this page—you’d have thought this was a standard story about life in the mission field. Right? Wrong. It’s about another group of remarkable young men who are simply called “the work crew.”
They don’t have a very glamorous name—“the work crew.” But it is descriptive. That wooded hill? It’s the Hill Cumorah. And the 22 young men of the work crew volunteer six weeks of their summer to set up stages, lights, and props for the annual Hill Cumorah Pageant, “America’s Witness for Christ.” During the seven performances they handle the lighting and special effects. Then, they take everything down again and restore the hill to its prepageant condition.
In the few short weeks before rehearsals and the actual pageant, the work crew puts together the large, seven-level outdoor stage, erects the light towers, sets up special effects machines, and strings thousands of feet of cable. By the time they are through, they have emptied nine large semitrailers of aluminum I-beams, fiberglass grating, pipes and tubing, lights, countless thousands of nuts and bolts, brackets and braces, connections and fittings of all descriptions.
A few of the crew members have been here before, but most are new. They’ve never read a blueprint before, never worked with I-beams. Training is on-the-job, and they hit the ground running. It’s learn as you go, and they learn a lot, especially about themselves.
“There’s a lot of potential that came out in us that we didn’t think we had,” says one. “Like getting the stages up,” another chimes in. “Sometimes you found yourself lifting something you didn’t think you could lift,” says a third. They tend to interrupt and finish each other’s sentences like brothers in a big family that has shared a lot.
Right now the whole crew is gathered at one end of the glorified barn that serves as their dormitory. They call it the “wind tunnel” because of the breeze that blows through when the doors are open at both ends. Actually, it only looks like a barn from the outside. Inside, it looks like an average teenage boy’s room multiplied by 22.
The crew not only rooms together and takes meals together, but they are divided into two-man companionships and call each other brother—Brother Shoesmith, Brother Sherwood, etc.
One obvious challenge is simply getting along together. They have different backgrounds, personalities, experience, abilities. If they all went to the same school, chances are they would not all end up as close friends. Yet, here they are, faced with an enormous task that requires great teamwork and cooperation. So differences have to be put aside.
“This is the best preparation for a mission. I’ve learned how to live with people,” comes a voice from the back of the crowd.
Still another crew member chimes in: “You feel the Spirit here because you’re working together with 21 other guys, building friendships. You learn each other’s weaknesses quickly, and you help each other become better people. That’s where the spiritual experience comes from—learning with other people.”
And depending on each other. Ask how much they depend on one another and the answer comes back in a literal chorus: “A lot!” The heavy work requires a team effort. But because the work is hard, and new to them, they rely on each other for emotional support, too. “Not everyone has a good day every day, and when someone has a bad day, everyone else has to try to help him through it.”
There is a lot riding on how well the crew does its work. The success of the pageant literally hinges on how they do their tasks.
The crew is divided into two teams—the light crew and the ground crew. Members of the light crew man the light towers, making sure that spotlights are correctly aimed at the right places. It gets a little lonely up on a tower in the dark, knowing that the success of a scene will depend on your doing just the right thing at just the right time. But it helps to know that your fellow crew members know just how you feel and that they are pulling for you. “We can all feel the joy of everyone else.”
For example, probably the key scene in the whole pageant is when an actor portraying the resurrected Christ is suddenly illuminated in the darkness above the stage and slowly descends. Having the spotlights in just the right place is crucial. As one of the tower crew tells it, “Towers seven and eight ‘pick up’ the Christ figure. And as a light tower person, I can feel their excitement.” Another finishes for him: “We all just heave a sigh of relief when they do a good job.”
“There’s nothing any of us wants more than for all of us to do a good job.”
When they do their job right, the performance goes well, and the audience doesn’t even notice they are there. But at least they get to watch the performances. Members of the ground team, on the other hand, spend much of their time under the stages. They scuttle from one special effects machine to another, trying not to crash into one of the I-beams or other supports that fill the low spaces beneath the sets. Timing is critical for them, too. They provide the flames during the Abinadi scene, the lightning arcs and fires and explosions of debris during the destruction scenes.
The space is limited, the hill is steep, and being in the right place at the right time demands concentration. In other words, it’s hard work—which leads to another discovery the work crew has made: “Hard work doesn’t kill you,” says Brother Malcarne with a grin. “In fact, the best thing about the whole experience is pride in your work.” He speaks from experience because, as the son of the technical director, he has spent several years on the work crew, both before and after his mission.
There’s that word again—mission. You can’t help but make the comparison. The crew members talk about it all the time themselves. Some already have mission calls; some are expecting them to arrive any day. Yet others come to the crew wondering about whether they can succeed on a mission.
“But,” Brother Malcarne points out, “afterwards they come away saying, ‘I’ve served for six weeks here, and worked very hard. I’ve done my own wash for the first time—I’ve got blue underwear now, but I did my own wash.’ And they say, ‘Maybe a mission isn’t going to be that difficult after all.’”
Maybe? After the six weeks at the hill, one crew member even exclaims enthusiastically, “We can fly!” So when another says, with quiet confidence, that his motto has become “I can do this,” you believe him. He can.