By STEVE GREENSTREET
While at BYU, many students become all too familiar with the part time job. Perhaps it involves washing laundry, grilling burgers, or stocking the shelves at Wal-Mart. Many might describe such employment as boring and dull–just another way to pay the bills or take that special someone out on a date. But for one man, 2,500 miles away, it was the part time job that changed his life.
On the second floor of a graffiti-laced, brick warehouse, a man drips in sweat and stuffs cotton into a futon. It’s a scorching summer day in the city of Baltimore, Md, and a broken air conditioner sits mockingly on a table. He breathes thick breaths of distinct concentration as he pulls the zipper closed. This is his third futon of the day and it’s time to take a break. He sits on the hard concrete floor and opens his Bible. Today he’s reading Psalms 106:47.
“Save us, Lord God! Bring us back from among the nations. Then we will give thanks to you, because your name is holy.”
Meet Melchizedek (Mel) Todd, devout Christian and maker of futons. Several years ago, after living in a variety of foster homes and jumping between dozens of part time jobs, Mel’s life came to an abrupt stand still. He found his best friend lying dead in his bed, the victim of a lethal illness. His faith was shaken and the following weeks were full of darkness and despair.
“I realized that I didn’t know Christ,” Mel said. “I had no relationship with Him.” But all of that changed when he saw an ad in the local paper asking for part time workers to hand-make futons in a run-down factory downtown.
Mel sits sewing in the middle of a giant room, roughly the size of half a soccer field. There are infinite piles of raw cotton wrapped like pillows stacked floor to ceiling. A large closet in the corner holds twine, thread, and nine inch needles. An assortment of aging boxes and supplies lie strewn throughout while tiny cotton particles float slowly through the air.
“It’s really a humble job,” Mel said. “You can just come in here at anytime and make futons and sit and think.”
John Kinhart, a recent graduate of an art school in Maryland, worked with Mel.
“I think there’s a kind of Zen to it,” said Kinhart on the atmosphere of the factory. “[Mel] had very serious reasons for being there. The rest of us were just trying to make a buck.”
As Kinhart worked with Mel day after day, they would have conversations about religion; more specifically, the LDS church which bares Mel’s first name as one of the levels of priesthood.
“I always thought Mormons were weird. But hey, ‘Melchizedek Priesthood’? That’s just cool,” said Mel.
Kinhart was so interested in Mel’s story, he made a documentary about it. Futonmaker is a documentary that chronicles the spiritual journey Mel took while making futons.
“It really is amazing,” Kinhart said. “That’s where God needed him at the time. And it was only a part-time job.”
The documentary was shown in Maryland last year at a few small festivals and was updated to be released again this September. Kinhart’s friend, Steve Greenstreet, a BYU student studying film, has plans to acquire the documentary to show at BYU.
Mel claims that the futon factory has been a place of healing and that he will work there until God has “finished healing him”. Indeed, a lesson to all us part-timers.