Any serious building project has distinct stages. For example, the planning stage takes place off-site and in advance. It requires a vision of the big picture, and of every fine detail, start to finish.
But then the foundation crew shows up. Whatever the weather, however unyielding the ground, their work can't be done in office chairs. These sturdy people carve the untamed earth and then create something that no one will see or even think about in future years: a deep, immovable base — a foundation.
Other stages and other crews will come later, adding useful and beautiful things that don't look like a foundation. But each addition will depend upon what the first laborers did.
The people of early church history — the ones whom the Lord called "the first laborers in this last kingdom" — were a kind of foundation crew (Doctrine and Covenants 88:70,74). They didn't plan out the kingdom; that was done in heaven. They had no neat or convenient job. They created a base upon which we have been adding things ever since.
The first laborers located in Missouri were told that they would "be honored in laying the foundation." (Doctrine and Covenants 58:7) Their labors were so wrenching, so repetitious with seeming failures, the foundation so modest in appearance, that they could not see how deep it had gone and how immovable it was. They could not imagine what honor God and his people would someday feel for them.
At that same period, another crew was "preparing a beginning and foundation" for a Zion located in Kirtland (Doctrine and Covenants 94:1). The Lord urged these first laborers also to "be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work" (Doctrine and Covenants 64:33). But could they see how great the work would become? Could they grasp how that work would someday rest upon their labors?
As a foundation differs dramatically from everything that sits on top of it, so the foundation of "this last kingdom" didn't look much like the great work that now rests upon it. It wasn't supposed to.
A man I know was going to put up a utility building on his farm property. As he and his friend dug the footings for a deep foundation, they ran into solid bedrock, just a couple of feet below the surface.
"Oh no!" the man said. "Now what?"
"What do you mean?" his friend asked.
"Well," he said, exasperated, "do we bore through the bedrock another couple of feet, or do we just find another spot for the building?"
His friend smiled and answered, "Neither."
"Neither?" the man said. Then relief slowly spread across his face. "Oh, I get it. We can lay our foundation right on the rock."
And that's just what they did. Their manmade foundation rests upon a deeper foundation — one that hasn't moved for ages of time.
The foundation crews of church history also found bedrock. But this bedrock is a being, the first of all the first laborers. He speaks to us in one of our hymns, saying such things as:
"How firm a foundation … is laid for your faith. … Fear not, I am with thee. … I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand. … I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless. …The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I cannot desert to his foes; that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake" (Hymns, No. 85).
Wayne E. Brickey, who lives in Gallatin, Mo., is a retired Church Educational System teacher and curriculum writer and has been a tour guide to Holy Land and Mormon history sites. His novel "Before His Manger: The Long Wait for Christ's First Coming" is serialized in weekly segments Fridays on MormonTimes.com.