Living in Port Alberni, an industrial town on Vancouver Island, Canada, with few Church members, I grew up fascinated by Utah. I especially loved the missionaries. My family even collected the rectangular address cards the missionaries handed out. Each had a photo of the Salt Lake Temple or some other temple, as well as the missionary’s home address and ward. Listed on the back were the Articles of Faith.
To my young imagination, these cards were like travel posters showing beautiful scenes from faraway lands. Visiting places like Temple Square, however, seemed impossible. For a young boy from a poor family, Utah may as well have been on the moon.
But when my oldest brother, Mundi, married and settled in Salt Lake City, my world began to shrink. Then when my other brother, Laurence, attended BYU after his mission, it shrank a little more. After Mundi and his wife had settled in Salt Lake City, I asked my parents if I could visit them there.
“If you save up for the bus ticket, I guess you’re old enough,” my dad said. They even called Mundi and his wife, who both said it would be fine if I visited them for a few weeks the following summer.
Only one major hurdle remained: the bus ticket. The round-trip fare was $75.00, a fortune to a 15-year-old without a job. Still, I did odd jobs when I could and saved most everything I made. By March I had put away $45.00.
About that time my dad retired, and we moved to the other side of Victoria. My family started attending the local branch that met each Sunday at the nearby Women’s Auxiliary Hall—an old weathered building that smelled of damp wood. Our branch was so small the adult leaders had to do many things. My dad was a counselor in the Sunday School presidency. He was also a Sunday School teacher and the priesthood instructor. My mother handled the music and helped with the Primary. A couple of boys and myself administered the sacrament, and everyone gave talks.
At that time, Church buildings were paid for partly by the local members. Unbeknownst to me, the district presidency was on a drive to fund Vancouver Island’s second chapel. They hoped this building would one day become the island’s first stake center. They were visiting each branch, beginning at our little Sunday School.
“We’re building the foundation for the Lord’s Church to grow in this area,” one of the brethren said. “To accomplish this, every one of us will need to sacrifice.”
I listened intently. It was always interesting, if not a little intimidating, when the leaders visited. I usually hung on their every word.
“We’ve worked out suggested assessments for every mother and father and for every child,” he said. He listed off assessments of several hundred dollars from each set of parents and an assessment of $45.00 from each child. “We know this will be hard for you, but we promise you will be blessed for it,” he concluded.
It seemed too much of a coincidence. I had exactly $45.00 back at the house, representing most of my ticket to Utah. Between Sunday School and priesthood meeting, I ran home and grabbed the money. In the exhilaration of the moment, my long awaited trip to Utah was completely forgotten. I walked up to the brother from the district presidency and handed him the $45.00.
What happened next took me completely by surprise. The man looked at me, almost dumbfounded. Before we began the next meeting, he took the stand and asked everyone to sit down.
“It’s not easy to ask members to sacrifice,” he began, “and I’ve felt very discouraged these past few weeks about having to do it. I guess my own faith was weak. But a young man in your midst has just given me every cent he has because the Lord asked for it,” he said. “And I know that he will be blessed because of it.”
I heard later that he stood before all the branches on the island and used my example again and again to inspire the membership. Ironically, I hadn’t given my decision a moment’s thought. The Lord needed exactly what I had, so I gave it.
I didn’t give my Utah trip any more thought either. Although I had wanted to go for as long as I could remember, I didn’t feel disappointed. I figured my blessing was how good I felt inside. And, for the moment, that was more than enough.
Then, just before summer vacation began, an unexpected phone call came. It was Sister Hackwell, the mother of Billy, one of my Church friends.
“I’m driving to Utah in a few weeks to visit Faye and Anita [her two married daughters] and wondered if Jim wanted to come along?” she asked. “Mundi could pick him up at Anita’s, and he and Billy could keep each other company on the way.” I could go to Utah, after all. I knew immediately that the Lord had blessed me even more than the brother from the district presidency had promised he would.