“A Portrait of Relief Society,” Ensign, Mar. 1992, 38
Today’s Relief Society offers women a variety of callings in leadership and teaching that help sisters come unto Christ.
Featured below is a sampling of sisters who serve in Relief Society callings in locations that span the globe.
From these brief profiles, we can see that whether a sister gives a lesson, spends time organizing an activity, buoys up the disheartened, loves her family, or aids her community, service is clearly the key to Relief Society.
“Today’s biggest challenge for many women,” says Jackie Poulsen, who is married and has three children, “is finding a balance among family, Church, work, and community responsibilities. It seems as if each demand on our time is only followed by another.”
In order to address sisters’ needs, Jackie and her counselors conducted a survey of needs among the women in their ward. “According to the survey responses, their spiritual needs far outweigh their temporal needs,” she recalls. “They wrote such things as ‘How do I communicate with my Father in Heaven?’ and ‘Help me with tolerance and forgiveness.’”
Relief Society lessons and meetings help sisters meet their spiritual needs. In one meeting, for example, the wife of a member of the stake presidency shared her struggle with overcoming depression. “That was a very positive thing for the sisters,” Jackie says.
She remembers that when she was first called as Relief Society president in her ward, “I felt as if I wanted a magic wand to solve the sisters’ problems. Gradually, I learned that I can’t solve their problems. All I can do is show them that I love them, through which I hope they will realize that the Lord loves them. I used to pray that their problems would go away. Now I pray that they will understand the Lord’s purpose in their lives and be grateful for the refiner’s fire.”
When Jeannie Mingorance’s second son, Roger, reached school age, the São Paulo, Brazil, homemaker faced a dilemma. She spoke five languages and knew the value of good schools. But she also knew her family could not afford private school tuition for both of their sons. Should she go to work?
She considered her most important calling that of being a homemaker. “After all,” she says, “you only get so much time in which to influence your children, and it goes by terribly fast.” By teaching cooking classes at home, she managed to help educate both Roger and his older brother, Richard, now a missionary in Uruguay.
For Sister Mingorance, her home has been her best teaching tool as a Relief Society leader. “Through the emphasis I put on my home, sisters learn that it’s possible to cultivate good relations and harmony within their own apartments and houses.” Because “women in Brazil face great economic challenges,” she also teaches them to prioritize to avoid conflicts: “People dream about things they don’t need.”
Working one-on-one with the ward Relief Society teachers is Susan Livings’s favorite part of being the education counselor in her ward. “I see my role as being a resource rather than a director,” says Susan, who joined the Church at age twenty-one after attending YWMIA for six years.
Her ward in Herefordshire (an hour’s drive from London)—where she lives with her husband and five children—has been affected by economic recession. “There is enormous pressure on marriages, lots of unemployment, houses being repossessed—and our ward has great diversity, economically and culturally.”
Susan calls her teachers two or three times a month to share ideas and ask how she might help. “A great blessing that has come to me from working in Relief Society,” Susan says, “is that I’ve learned to appreciate the other women as sisters.”
As a result of her service, Susan has grown to love the diversity among women, whose interests and style of doing things vary, but whose values and concerns are very similar.
It had been years since Bette Lloyd had regularly attended Relief Society. She’d been a Young Women teacher, and then she’d sat with her invalid mother while her father went to priesthood meetings. Five years ago when Sister Lloyd, then sixty-eight, remarried and moved to California with her husband, she began attending Relief Society on a regular basis and before long found herself serving as secretary.
Her ward Relief Society president, Thelma Jessen, who considers Bette to be a model Relief Society secretary, says, “Besides always having her reports in on time and being consistently efficient, Bette is a very cheerful and spiritual person. She is a full participant in Relief Society, willing to help others in their callings far beyond the work she does in her role of secretary. She is never too busy to help do whatever she is asked.”
Whenever anyone participates in a meeting, she is sure to receive one of Bette’s thank-you notes.
Sister Lloyd’s responsibilities as secretary include keeping attendance, compiling monthly and quarterly reports, and “anything else the presidency asks me to do.”
If Graciela Cisneros were the visiting teaching board member in your ward, she would likely teach with Charity, as she does in the Iñaquito Ward, high in the mountains of Ecuador.
Charity is a little lady that Graciela sketched on a sheet of paper to remind the women in her ward what and who their objective is in visiting teaching. “Teach Charity,” she tells them, holding up the sketch during the ten minutes she is given each month to encourage visiting teaching. Charity represents a typical sister to be visited and the love and concern that visiting teachers should bear.
Graciela gathers their reports and urges the women to be diligent about their reporting. “It’s a constant struggle,” she adds. “The distance our sisters have to travel to visit each other makes the task difficult. So does the great disparity in education; some are uncomfortable visiting those who are well educated.”
“I appreciate women of the Church who have taught me so many things,” she says. “After my husband left me with five children, I provided for my family by selling cookies. Then Sister Cabral, the stake Relief Society president, helped me learn to make doughnuts, too. Now I support my family making and selling cookies and doughnuts.”
According to Graciela, many women in the ward sew their own and their children’s clothes or do other resourceful things they learned in Relief Society. “It has made a great difference in our lives,” she says.
“Too often members of the Church don’t realize that the ward Relief Society president has a strong right hand called the compassionate service board member who helps when service needs arise,” says Susanna Bohler. She explains that the Relief Society works under the bishop’s direction, and she, Susanna, therefore is the Relief Society president’s agent for coordinating compassionate service assignments and activities in the Relief Society.
Last year in the Wetterau Ward, Relief Society sisters collected, packed, and delivered care packages and Christmas presents to 150 children in Romania.
Whenever someone moves into the ward, Sister Bohler sees to it that the Relief Society sisters furnish meals for that household for a week. “We want to ease the difficult time,” she says. “Moving is hard on the whole family, but it is especially hard on a mother, whose kitchen is disrupted and who has so much on her mind.”
This kind of compassionate service has an influence on all the women—those serving and those being served. “It has made me more aware of the little acts of service that can mean so much,” says Susanna.
“I love to be in the homes of the sisters and help them when they are sick or help them with their new babies,” says Faustine Aba Otoo, who is divorced and provides for her family herself. “I truly enjoy the Church, and in a small branch each of us has several callings. But I especially love sitting with the sisters discussing the Spiritual Living lessons, even fasting and praying together.”
Many women in Ghana lack a formal education and don’t know how to read, so Faustine—who speaks three Ghanaian languages in addition to English—helps them answer questions about life and Latter-day Saint values.
For Faustine, teaching Spiritual Living lessons is a way of helping women in her branch to see that all aspects of their lives are spiritual. “Teaching my sisters makes me feel that somebody loves me and cares for me.”
She adds, “Our meetings are so full of investigators that people have to sit outside the building.”
One of the greatest challenges for members of the Church in Ghana is the same as for all citizens of that country—finances. “Women of the Church must devote time to earning money to help their families,” Faustine explains. “One sister, who is a baker, teaches others how to bake bread; she employs some sisters so they can earn some money. Having no means of starting up businesses, we must find even the smallest means of bringing in money.”
She appreciates the Church’s welfare program “for encouraging us to raise poultry and goats, and by teaching us that there is dignity in any labor.”
Sherry Vance of Cardston, Alberta, Canada, can’t remember where or when she learned to read music. Her mother taught singing and piano, and the family sang at many community events.
“Trying to teach a new song in five minutes can be tricky,” she says. “But if I’ve done my homework by preparing and learning the song myself, Heavenly Father helps me not to feel super-nervous. He also helps me inject lots of enthusiasm into my teaching.”
Sherry reads the Relief Society lessons two to three months in advance. As a result, she says, “A phrase or idea about the lesson will stay with me. Then, at the weirdest times—like in the middle of the night or at work—the exact song or songs I want for a lesson come into my head. It amazes me how much the still, small voice has helped me.”
Music has helped her draw closer to the Lord in many ways. “At times I’ve wondered if I’m worthy to get a prompting or hear the still, small voice,” she continues. “Yet, if I do my proper preparation, I have experienced it. I feel the Lord knows you’re trying, and he is there to help.”
Her calling as homemaking board member often gives Kim Mi-Gyong a chance to teach the sisters in her ward a traditional Oriental art—flower arranging, an important skill in beautifying the home that has been practiced for centuries in the Far East.
Homemaking lessons in Seoul are taught more often in homes than at the meetinghouse, Kim reports, “because more people attend and participate when we do these activities in homes.”
“I’ve felt the closest with sisters when we eat together,” she says. “When we share a meal, we share our lives—our common challenges, our blessings, our feelings. It’s a wonderful time together.
“And other sisters share their skills, too; some cook with great ability, others can sew very well and teach the rest of us how.”
When she joined the Church in 1971, she recalls that there were not many families, mostly individual members. Kim and her husband have four children.
Upriver from Paris about a hundred kilometers, Veronique Dampt teaches Home and Family Education in the town of Troyes. The town, with its 120 members of the Church, straddles the beautiful Seine.
“Modern culture offers us a destructive image of women,” says Veronique, “an image that ridicules motherhood and homemaking, claiming that women’s liberation leads to fulfillment.
“From my mission and now as a teacher in Relief Society, I’ve come to understand what it is to be a woman, a daughter of God. I am grateful to know of the truest sources of fulfillment. People around me are astonished to see me be fulfilled and happy being a homemaker and mother.
“My calling requires me to share spiritual principles, so I strive to give something special to each sister during that lesson. This sisterhood is a bond of strength we share in our individual challenges.”
Bettina Köpf, a single sister who is a physician and lives on the outskirts of Vienna, feels that Relief Society can address both the spiritual and practical aspects of women’s lives.
“Women today face three enormous challenges, and Relief Society can help with all of these, whether a woman is married or not. First, we all need to remain physically and spiritually pure. Second, we cannot hide our light under a bushel but must develop our talents and skills. And third, we must rear or help to rear children in righteousness—either our own children or those around us—through our callings and other means of service.
“Here in Austria, the Church is still viewed often with prejudice,” says Bettina. “We teach our young women as they enter Relief Society that by giving of themselves freely in service, with no strings attached, they will contribute to society and break down some of the prejudices—whether by rearing a harmonious family, developing a good working climate, or adding to rich, neighborly relationships.”
For the last two years, the stake has held a Women’s Day. Last year’s theme was “You Can Do Something,” and women helped one another see the breadth of influence they can have in their families and in society.