“In the Service of Our Fellow Beings,” Ensign, Oct. 1996, 34
Centuries ago, one of the Nephites’ loved and respected prophet-leaders taught his people to serve and love one another. Before the advent of Jesus Christ, King Benjamin’s words were emblazoned upon the hearts of his people: “I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
More than a century later, the Lord Jesus Christ also taught his followers to serve: “Whosoever will be chief among you,” he taught, “let him be your servant” (Matt. 20:27).
That charge has continued into the current dispensation. The Prophet Joseph Smith counseled the Saints: “[We are] to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide for the widow, to dry up the tear of the orphan, to comfort the afflicted, whether in this church, or in any other, or in no church at all, wherever [we find] them” (Times and Seasons, 15 March 1842, 732).
Today the Lord’s leaders continue to ask us to serve others, individually as well as in organized group efforts: “In humanitarian work, as in other areas of the gospel, we cannot become the salt of the earth if we stay in one lump in the cultural halls of our beautiful meetinghouses,” Bishop Glenn L. Pace said in the October 1990 general conference. “We need not wait for a call or an assignment from a Church leader before we become involved in activities that are best carried out on a community or individual basis” (Ensign, Nov. 1990, 10).
Throughout the length and breadth of the Church, members by the thousands are answering the call to reach out and serve others in their communities, giving of their time, talents, and means. Following is a fractional representation of reports from throughout the Church, showing the many and powerful ways service can be offered to those around us.
Members of the Fort Lauderdale Florida Stake recently sewed and donated 292 badly needed hospital gowns to Hospice Care of Broward County. Hospice programs offer support and care for people in the final phase of terminal illness. What began as a ward service project in 1994 has since grown into an annual event headed by Relief Society members from the stake’s eight wards.
In a similar hospice project, members of the Dothan Alabama Stake helped families facing the imminent death of loved ones by organizing assistance from extended family members, asking for help from neighbors, meeting the needs of children, and helping transport groceries.
In Brisbane, Australia, more than 240 young single adults brushed joy into the lives of sick and injured children at the Mater Children’s Hospital by painting several walls with colorful murals. Hallway walls came alive with paintings of forest animals and vegetation, while the hospital pharmacy waiting room became an underwater world of sea animals, shells, and hidden treasure. Hospital officials were so happy with the transformation that they invited the young single adults back to ply their paintbrushes on a second story of the hospital.
This was not your average youth conference. The youth of the Washington D.C. Stake wanted to build testimonies, friendships, and unity, so rather than playing games and going to workshops, they built two houses in two days.
Under the direction of the Habitat for Humanity program, 200 youth conference participants worked together to build two houses on pre-poured foundations. By evening of the next day, two low-income families had new, affordable homes.
“We wanted to do something unique, something that would make a difference,” said Jai Nair, co-chairperson of the stake youth committee.
“This conference helped foster a lifetime pattern of Christian service,” commented Erin Hill, also a co-chairperson of the stake youth committee.
The families whose homes were being built expressed their gratitude for the work the youth did. One family wrote: “‘Thank you’ seems so small for such a great deed your church has done. I hope your church knows how grateful our family is for our house. God bless you all.” The local directors of Habitat for Humanity expressed similar gratitude for the youths’ involvement: “Working with you and your youth was a wonderful experience for us. God was and is truly in our midst.”
The Louisville Kentucky Stake, also working with Habitat for Humanity, mobilized members in the stakes on three separate occasions to help build homes for families in need. Construction crews provided manual labor, hospitality crews prepared and served lunch, youth collected spare tools and equipment to donate to Habitat for Humanity, and Primary children built birdhouses to present to the families moving into the homes.
In the Rexburg, Idaho, area, members scraped, primed, and painted several homes of low-income elderly or disabled people.
For the past nine years, Latter-day Saints in Midland, Texas, have helped a community organization repair and improve homes of families in need.
Service rendered by many wards and stakes is the feeding of hungry or homeless families and individuals. The O’Fallon Illinois Stake has joined with the St. Vincent de Paul Society to provide a monthly meal for 60 to 120 people in a neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri. Members of the Camarillo California Stake organized a rotating system for feeding homeless people through Red Cross warming shelters and the Ventura County Rescue Mission. Gallons of hearty homemade soup made by Salem, Oregon, members feed homeless families and individuals in the area on a monthly basis. And members in Orange County, California, regularly provide meals for the hungry both through established shelters and in conjunction with other denominations.
In Lafayette, Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; and Panama City, Florida, Church leaders have opened their canneries for members to help provide storable food to shelters and relief agencies. The Lafayette Indiana Stake canned over 3,000 cans of tomato soup in one of several canning projects in which the canned food has supplemented local relief efforts. Among other canning projects in the Columbus, Ohio, area, Smuckers Corporation donated 36,000 pounds of frozen blackberries, and members donated 900 service hours and cannery facilities to turn 10,000 pounds of those berries into 14,880 jars of blackberry jam for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. The rest of the berries were handled by Latter-day Saints in Indianapolis, Detroit, and Washington, D.C.
When the World Special Olympics for disabled children, held in Connecticut during July 1995, needed volunteers to help with the more than 10,000 participants from 140 countries, youth from three stakes in Connecticut and New Jersey offered to help.
Ruth Norton, a member of the New Haven Connecticut Stake, had been involved with Special Olympics for many years with a learning-disabled son who recently passed away. The son’s friends, anxious to assist other special athletes, helped plan a three-day youth conference with service to the special athletes as a theme. More than 450 youth showed up and happily helped out in cheering on athletes, running concession booths, and cleaning up. So willing were the youth to serve that after the youth conference concluded, many returned to offer additional help.
In Walla Walla, Washington, youth teamed up for another kind of project to help disabled children. Nearly 200 teenagers volunteered to help the Meadowood Springs Speech Camp, whose director is a member of the Church, with a special camp day featuring swimming, crafts, and a special dance.
“Where did you get these wonderful young people?” asked board members of the Oregon Games for the Physically Limited after Latter-day Saint youth helped administer games and work with athletes. The numerous favorable comments about the young Latter-day Saints from the Salem Oregon Stake focused on their competence, dedication, positive approach, and general demeanor. On another Saturday, several families from the Salem Second Ward assisted at other games for the physically limited. Members served as officials, registrars, parade sentries, team assistants, and photographers and on setup and takedown crews in addition to helping beforehand by making banners and preparing equipment.
Hundreds of Saints in the Chicago area recently volunteered to assist attenders of the American Council of the Blind’s annual convention. Anita Johnson, who at the time was serving as an assistant public affairs director for community relations, coordinated the Church’s volunteer efforts in four-and-a-half-hour shifts over 11 days. Church volunteers helped convention attenders navigate stairs, escalators, and elevators; find meeting rooms and exhibits; check in and find their hotel rooms; read menus and refill water glasses in restaurants; find and board shuttle and tour buses; and locate amenities such as the guide dog relief area and vending machines.
Many members used their lunch hours and vacation days to help, and one Latter-day Saint business owner allowed all his employees time off to assist the blind conventioneers. All told, the Church provided some 500 volunteers.
Sister Johnson received a letter of thanks from the council along with a certificate for each volunteer. “You helped make the blind feel at home by being where there was assistance needed,” the letter said. “You made the difference in the success of the convention.”
Many members like to get involved with service projects at Christmastime. Thanks to interested Young Women leaders in the Paul Idaho Stake, youth became involved in making toys to donate to a nondenominational Christmas council made up of interested people from Minidoka and Cassia Counties. The council helps some 400 families each year with toys, clothing, and food.
More than 200 Latter-day Saint youth spent an evening sewing, painting, and sanding toys such as dolls, doll cribs, doll quilts, wooden peg games, and other items to give to needy children. Youth also collected, cleaned, and repaired donated toys from ward members.
In a similar project in the Longmont Colorado Stake, members became involved in helping the St. Vrain’s Holiday Basket Program. Low-income families were encouraged to register to receive food on Christmas Day and to receive gifts for children under 12. A dozen members of the Church, mainly Spanish-speaking returned missionaries, offered to assist in the registration process. The stake donated about 280 gifts during the 1995 holiday season. Other Church members went to the collection point and spent many hours sorting and arranging donated items for the needy families to pick up. “Thank you for making this year’s Holiday Basket Program an easier, joyful, and more organized affair,” wrote a member of the St. Vrain’s Community Council to members of the Longmont stake.
In a different kind of service project, members of the Roseburg Oregon Stake wrote to people serving in the military. Through Project Christmas Cheer, organized by the Red Cross, names and addresses were obtained of local men and women assigned to active duty during Christmas. Members of the stake sent more than 300 cards and letters to service personnel. Several families received letters from the servicemen expressing their gratitude.
A single father looking for quality after-school care for his children, a parent whose child was teased by other children at school, and a mother with three children suffering from allergies were among some 600 parents who visited the “Educational Information Market for Parents,” hosted by Latter-day Saints in Haarlem, Netherlands.
The one-day community event, held at the Haarlem Ward chapel, included 32 booths run by various community organizations and churches that focused on educating parents. The Latter-day Saint booth provided information about having family home evening and teaching children strong values.
• A thousand yellow balloons bobbing along the main roads and shopping precinct of Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, England, hailed passersby to “Families Matter,” an open house run by the Tunbridge Wells Ward to strengthen community families.
About 50 members staffed the open house in shifts throughout the day. More than 100 people from the community came to see displays and receive brochures and leaflets about building stronger family relationships.
Representing the community, Kent County Council chairman John Purchese helped open the event, saying, “I commend the Church for recognizing the need to strengthen families in the community and for doing something about it.”
• “Strong Families Build Strong Communities” is the logo running across stationery, posters, and banners advertising National Family Week in Columbus, Ohio. Organized by Judy Lifferth of the Columbus Second Ward, events and activities of National Family Week are designed to build and strengthen family relationships. Local Church members are always on hand to help this annual community event come off without a hitch.
After reading a newspaper article about a local citizen’s efforts to gather relief supplies for citizens of war-torn former Yugoslavia, two Relief Society women from the Pinneberg Ward, Neumuenster Germany Stake, volunteered to help Antje Voige pack goods in the living room of her home. From that small beginning, Church members’ involvement in the project escalated.
When more space was needed, some of the work of packing clothing shifted to the Pinneberg Ward meetinghouse, where additional members started helping. Later, the meetinghouse became one of many donation collection points—and then the meetinghouse became the main collection center. For many people in the community, dropping off a donation at the Church building was their first exposure to Latter-day Saints.
Under the direction of stake public relations coordinator Monika Dannenberg, Church members filled about 800 large cardboard banana boxes with supplies bound for Bosnia. Relief Society sisters and young women received, sorted, and packed goods, and missionaries and ward priesthood brethren loaded boxes into two 40-ton trucks. Besides helping load the trucks, young men from the ward also repaired several wheelchairs.
• Elsewhere in Germany, the Düsseldorf stake has been involved in several service projects. In June 1994 and then again in November 1995, members helped clean up a city forest as part of an open-door day sponsored by the Düsseldorf Ward. During 1994 and 1995, several members arranged for food and clothing to be shipped to suffering people in Romania. In December 1994 youth leaders organized a puppet theater to lift the spirits of children at a cancer clinic. And during the past two Christmas seasons, stake members entertained elderly residents by caroling at a senior citizens’ home in Mönchengladbach.
A Salem, Oregon, art fair volunteer coordinator worked with the Salem stake’s public affairs council to recruit Church members to work at a booth featuring the history of a Salem landmark, Elsinore Theater. In handwritten thank-you notes sent after the event, the volunteer coordinator called the Latter-day Saint volunteers “delightful and enthusiastic.” Members had earlier helped with the final cleanup of the theater after its restoration.
Fifty young women and their leaders from three stakes spent two hours apiece working at the Lucy Boyle Library in Blackfoot, Idaho. Librarian Robert Wright commented that the 100 hours of service saved the library staff about a month’s worth of work. The members’ efforts included straightening books and comparing inventory lists with books actually on the shelves to identify missing or misplaced books.
As part of an interfaith program, several stakes in Orange County, California, are participating in an “Adopt a Social Worker” program in which wards are matched with county social workers who work with abused, neglected, or needy children. Because of budget constraints, social workers are commonly overloaded with assigned families. Rather than being able to focus on social and psychological needs, social workers spend much time assuring that families’ basic temporal needs are being met—a necessary step before families can make changes.
In the Newport Beach California Stake, social workers can simply call Latter-day Saint ward representatives when specific families need items such as bedding, clothing, furniture, or baby supplies. On special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas, members prepare boxes of gifts and food for needy families. Members also help with other specific needs; for instance, a talented abused girl was provided with a violin, Scout uniforms were located for some boys, and baseball shoes were made available for a Little Leaguer. Many members in the Irvine California Stake are finding similar service opportunities through their wards’ assigned social workers.
When she was called as community relations director in the Aurora Colorado Stake, Clare Wood prayed to find worthwhile service projects in the community and felt guided to speak to Aurora city officials. Because of this liaison, Sister Wood is often contacted when volunteers for community events are needed. Recently stake members played crucial roles in the city’s “Grand Breakfast” for grandparents and grandchildren followed by a “Catch a Fish Day” for all children.
A city representative thanked Church members by saying, “All your helping hands and kind hearts made our day a great success!” Church members have already been asked to help with next year’s day of events.
Other stake community service projects have included providing more than 1,000 hours of service during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Denver, Colorado, in 1993; operating registration booths for a “Kops and Kids” event each summer; making 75 ponchos from woolen blankets for a crisis center in Aurora; making stuffed toys, personal care kits, and quilts for the police department to give to abused or abandoned children; removing graffiti; and making new baby kits for mothers-to-be who seek services at the tricounty health department. “The list is endless of what can be done!” says Sister Wood.
Digging trenches and drainage channels, restoring environmentally vital heathlands, and performing traditional English pantomimes for disabled adults keep the members in the Poole England Stake busily involved in community service.
Over the last 10 years, youth in the Poole stake have participated in at least 18 service projects at the Avon Tyrell Youth Activities Center. Most recently, more than 30 youth created an island in a lake on the center’s grounds and dug new drainage channels from a main building to help prevent recurrent flooding of a courtyard.
Leaders have noticed a difference in the youth as they serve the community. “When we had activities that did not include service, the youth recognized that they missed the special spirit attending it,” said Peter Kilby, stake Young Men president in the Poole stake. “When we included service, testimony meetings were better, relationships grew—it was totally different.”
Adults in the stake feel the same unity as they serve the community. The Bournemouth Ward elders quorum joined the youth of the stake to restore a heathland that is home to rare species like the Dartford Warbler, sand lizards, and other reptiles.
Members of the Poole Ward also performed a pantomime, a form of theater traditional to England, for more than 80 local disabled people and their families and care assistants.
Youth leaders in the Calgary Alberta Stake heard that a nearby provincial park needed a facelift but did not have the funds or labor force to do it. In response, more than 100 youth gathered for their annual youth conference to become “eco-warriors” for a popular picnicking spot in the aging and well-used park. Park rangers supplied equipment and instructions, and the youth supplied hard work and enthusiasm to build and improve trails, plant trees, and wire tree trunks to protect the trees from beavers.
Families from the Gates Branch, Salem Oregon Stake, spent a Saturday cleaning up litter and beautifying the landscape along a main highway. Workers from nearby businesses gave the members cold drinks and refreshments, and passing townspeople spontaneously joined in the efforts.
For the last two years, the wards in the Silverdale Washington Stake have participated in a campaign to help clean up the county. For instance, during a year when school budgets were particularly tight, the Silverdale Third and Poulsbo Second Wards worked on the grounds of three schools. Nearly 200 members spent more than 400 hours pruning, raking, mowing, and beautifying the grounds. About 40 truckloads of bushes and brambles were transported away. The Kitsap County School Board invited a Church representative to attend a school board meeting where Church members were recognized for their work.
Tonga’s acting prime minister and minister of education recently thanked Church members for a massive cleanup effort undertaken by more than 5,000 Latter-day Saint students during their summer vacation. In a three-week period leading up to several stake conferences, the students cleaned and painted 30 schools, three police stations, and three district health centers. Church members were also among the first in Tonga to volunteer to help clean up excess squash pumpkins that had spoiled, resulting in a fly infestation. During the cleanup, the Tongan public affairs council’s community specialist was twice interviewed on national television.
As part of a national spring cleanup organized each year by a group called Tidy Britain, members of the Wigan Ward, Liverpool England Stake, picked up 20 bags of litter in a busy area that serves as a shortcut to a public park and the town center.
After voters in Brevard County, Florida, rejected a bond that would have allowed the school district to renovate 39 schools, Cocoa Florida Stake presidency second counselor Paul Lawrence Singleton contacted the school board to offer the ongoing help of stake youth. During a subsequent youth conference, individual wards took responsibility for different schools where, with the guidance and assistance of maintenance personnel, youth sodded, mowed, edged, weeded, and trimmed greenery and replaced sprinkler heads; cleaned windows, walls, floors, ceilings, and blinds; painted doors, walls, fences, and basketball court lines; resanded baseball diamonds; cleaned and replaced light fixtures; power-washed outside walls and walkways; picked up and removed trash; cleaned desks, lockers, locker rooms, and band rooms; and cleaned mildew from library books. The school board sent Church leaders a letter of thanks, and many principals expressed their appreciation for the youths’ hard work.
In the Silverdale Washington Stake, members installed roofs on underground dugouts in a local softball field and cleaned up a cemetery overgrown with vines and bushes. In an elders quorum service project, more than 30 men laid sod and installed a sprinkler system along a main road in Caldwell, Idaho. Fifty members from the Kiel Ward in the Neumuenster Germany Stake worked for six hours to clear paths, weed flower beds, and prune hedges at the Old Botanical Garden in Kiel, Germany. “Service to the community is part of our religion. Each person should seek to help his neighbor; it doesn’t matter how,” said Jens-Uwe Zickler, bishop of the Kiel Ward.
“When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
“Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37).