My brother, Walter, was one of the thousands of Latter-day Saint volunteers who donned bright yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” vests and descended on southeast Texas this weekend to assist in the post-Harvey cleanup efforts.
While shoveling mud and muck from homes, a few members of his group stumbled on an anti-Mormon booklet amidst the debris titled "Unmasking Mormonism." Without missing a beat, Latter-day Saint Troy McFadden held the pamphlet in one hand and pulled down his safety mask with the other.
My brother snapped the photograph.
This band of Latter-day Saints who traveled down from Dallas shared a laugh, and then they got back to work.
When hurricanes the size of Harvey and Irma hit — wiping out households and homes — there’s little to console the families and individuals struggling to rebuild their lives in the wake of Mother Nature’s ravages. Alongside their neighbors of differing faith traditions, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints strive to offer some hope and help after disaster strikes through both humanitarian aid and Mormon Helping Hands.
LDS missionaries press pause on their formal preaching and pick up pails and shovels. Lay-church members drive hours to assist; they give up weekend yard work to work in yards piled high with wreckage.
This past weekend, some 11,000 Latter-day Saints helped in the post-Harvey cleanup. The weekend before that the figure was about the same. Meanwhile, similar efforts are being undertaken by thousands of Latter-day Saints in Florida as the church is also sending two dozen additional truckloads of supplies to help Harvey victims.
When early Mormon pioneers found themselves in a life and death situation on the snowy plains of the American West, their leader Brigham Young famously preached to the people safe in Salt Lake City: “I will tell you all that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains. And attend strictly to those things which we call temporal, or temporal duties. Otherwise, your faith will be in vain.”
This weekend, Mormons in Texas and Florida are unmasking their faith by donning masks and work vests; in the words of Brother Brigham, they're tending to the “temporal duties” of their religion by striving to give hope to those on the verge of losing it, and by lending a hand to those who tremble with the burdens they now bear.
For my brother, and for thousands of Latter-day Saints like him, giving up a weekend of family or football was hardly a sacrifice after seeing the sincere appreciation of those they served. Sometimes, it seems, the truest form of Mormonism comes clad in blue jeans and fully masked.
Hal Boyd is the opinion editor of the Deseret News.