Side by Side


What we shared with these tough construction workers was more than blisters.

Every morning our walk to the work site at the end of the trench grew longer, and every day the Sundance Power Plant grew a little smaller on the horizon. For myself and the three young LDS men that I worked with that summer in northern Alberta, the construction work was temporary—our heads were filled with thoughts of college, dreams of careers in business, advertising, and biology. We counted the days until the two-mile-long trench (that would serve as a filter for the murky water that left the power plant) would be finished.

The fact I had found myself working with three Mormons in northern Alberta was a near miracle, if not a mathematical impossibility. Being a recent convert, I felt fortunate to be among others of my faith while I worked. The time went by quickly as they shared experiences from their missions, one even taking the time to teach me a little Japanese.

Norm was our patriarch, not in age as much as in patience and insight. He was a tall, lanky guy who was always the first with a practical joke or a one-liner, but also the type who seemed to know when understanding and empathy were in order. Perhaps Norm’s kindness was made even more apparent as it contrasted with the rough, seasoned construction workers we worked alongside—men who used four-letter words to replace any and every adjective possible, men who spent their paychecks on beer and little else. Three of us steered clear of the regulars, but Norm made an extra effort to spend at least a few minutes every day working in their group.

One morning, before we made our way down the twisting trench, Norm pulled a Book of Mormon out of his lunch box and walked over to one of the regulars.

“Don’t be stupid,” snapped the powerfully built construction worker as he pushed the book back at Norm. Norm took a short, nervous step back.

“Put the thing in my truck,” the man said in a hushed voice. “And put it under the seat so the guys don’t see it and give me a hard time.”

Norm walked over to the vehicle and called back to the man who was now surrounded by several of his fellow workers. “Hey, nice stereo. Mind if I have a closer look?”

“Yeah, sure,” the man called back.

Norm slipped the Book of Mormon under the driver’s seat, and we began our daily walk to the job site.

Norm answered our queries by telling us that he had struck up several conversations with the man while they worked. During one talk he discovered the man’s grandmother was an American Indian. “I listened to the stories his grandmother told him,” said Norm, “like the one where the continent is covered in darkness for three days [see 1 Ne. 19:10]. I told him, ‘Boy, do I have a book for you!’”

I felt disturbed. I knew I would have let these individuals miss out on the blessings of the gospel simply because they appeared rough on the outside. I knew Norm did not approach these men because he wanted to show off to us; he knew the joy of the gospel, and he wanted these men to share that spiritual wealth.

After Norm told his story we were quiet for a long time, walking and thinking of the blessings we enjoyed and wondering how we could walk closer to our brothers. With the time we had left on the job, we brought the other men into our work group and involved them in our water fights and our harmless practical jokes on the bosses and on each other. But perhaps most important, we let these men know what we believed and how we lived our lives. And from then on, as we walked to and from the job site, we did so together, the regulars and the Mormons—side by side.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Bryan Lee Shaw