When a lightning strike started a wildfire outside of Boise last summer, flames rushed through the foothills chewing up more than 5,000 acres that included four houses, outbuildings, vehicles, trailers and pets.
No Latter-day Saints were affected, but four families from other churches lost their homes. Bishop Ken Firmage of the Beacon Light Ward, Eagle Idaho Stake, saw a need and began contacting the families to offer the ward's service. As a token of kindness he also gave each family a homemade quilt.
"I consider it my responsibility to look out for the welfare of everyone within my ward boundaries — members or not," he said. "They couldn't understand why we would want to help. We explained that we are all God's children and need each other's help. They were thankful from the bottom of their hearts."
Only one of the four families accepted Bishop Firmage's offer.
"Many offered," said fire victim Bill Zavison. After an initial inquiry, he thought that would be the end of their interest. "But Bishop Firmage kept calling and calling."
Bishop Firmage happened to call about the time the Zavisons received a bid for their landscape work. It was an ambitious project that would turn a chunk of their brown hill into a green one by planting mature trees, a lush lawn and underground sprinklers to keep it that way.
Mr. Zavison said by the time he rebuilt and refurnished his house there wasn't much money left over for landscaping. The bishop's offer to help intrigued him, so he accepted.
The ward proved eager to serve an unknown family. On July 16, more than 100 men, women, teenagers and even a few children arrived at the Zavisons' house armed with shovels, rakes, hoes and tractors. The small army of ward members organized into zones and set to work. They planted more than 500 trees, shrubs and plants, then watered and raked them. Members worked for five hours from morning into the heat of the day with no complaint.
Dan Baird, a member who owns a landscaping company, gave the family the plants at cost. Likewise, Chad Bell, owner of a sprinkler company, donated the use of an excavator and a Bobcat.
"I am awestruck, overwhelmed," said Cherie Zavison. "If it weren't for this group, we'd have to tackle this a little here and a little there, and it would probably take us five to 10 years to get this done."
Mr. Zavison said he was not a church-going man and had never been much of a believer in God. Yet, he couldn't help but wonder why people he'd never met would work to the point of exhaustion to help him. He wondered what impelled someone to sacrifice so much for another.
On one occasion, after speaking with the bishop, Mr. Zavison contacted a longtime employee who lived on the other side of the state and who served as an LDS bishop.
"He told me that Mormons do this all the time," he said. "They have no ulterior motives. And when all is said and done, at the end of the day, you are likely to feel God's love."
Mr. Zavison said this effort by the ward changed everything for him, and in him. He described himself as a lumpy personality with not much warmth or fuzziness. Yet, he was near tears all day as members of the Beacon Light Ward toiled in his yard.
The ward, with other community volunteers, plan to return Aug. 6 to perform other perfecting landscape tasks.