Our Brothers’ Keepers
June 1998

“Our Brothers’ Keepers,” Ensign, June 1998, 33

Our Brothers’ Keepers

Adapted from an address given in Salt Lake City to Rotary International on 20 November 1997

From New York City to North Korea, the Church quietly reaches out in welfare efforts that aid millions of the suffering and needy.

I am very honored to join with you on this occasion. You Rotarians have a phenomenal dedication to your club and its altruistic bylaws, because you have adesire to help those in need.

Harry Emerson Fosdick, a great Protestant minister, said, “Men will work hard for money. They will work harder for other men. But men will work hardest of all when they are dedicated to a cause. Until willingness overflows obligation, men fight as conscripts rather than following the flag as patriots. Duty is never worthily performed until it is performed by one who would gladly do more if only he could.”1

One ever conscious of duty was my beloved associate—and a dedicated Rotarian—Richard L. Evans. He traveled the world for Rotary when he was international president of Rotary International. I was in Toronto, Canada, once and had to help him rewrite a ticket. I had never seen such a long and complicated ticket. After I became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he and I sat near each other in meetings. I noticed often, after he came back from all-night flights, how tired he was. He had the responsibility to write and deliver the Spoken Word messages during the Tabernacle Choir broadcasts each Sunday; he was busy with ecclesiastical duties, with Rotary, and with being a husband, a father, and a grandfather—and yet he was ever found doing his duty.

Tonight Sterling Spafford, your district governor, has asked that I say a word or two about humanitarian aid and about welfare in the LDS Church.

We take most seriously the admonition from the Lord found in the New Testament in Matthew, chapter 25, and I know you do too:

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. …

“… Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”2

Each time we watch the news on television or pick up a newspaper, we learn of terrible human suffering as a result of tornadoes, floods, fires, drought, hurricanes, earthquakes, conflicts of war. I ask the question: Do we have a responsibility to do something about such suffering?

Long years ago a similar question was posed and preserved in holy writ, even the Holy Bible, and I quote from the book of Genesis:

“And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

“And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?”3 The answer to that vital question is: Yes, we are our brothers’ keepers.

The funding of the operation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide is based on tithing, where members contribute 10 percent of their increase, as set forth by the Old Testament prophet Malachi. In addition to tithing, we have in the Church what we call fast offering. The members of the Church fast once a month and contribute the equivalent of the meals not eaten—and anything in addition we would like—as a fast offering to help the poor and the needy.

To provide an idea of the extent of the conventional welfare help given by the Church, may I share with you a brief list of some of the Church-operated welfare enterprises:

  • 100 storehouses.

  • 80 canneries.

  • 97 employment centers worldwide.

  • 45 Deseret Industries stores.

  • 63 LDS Social Services offices.

  • 106 priesthood-managed production projects.

  • 1,049 welfare missionaries in 33 countries.

It is a wonderful thing to see what is accomplished as a result of this investment and effort.

In the 1950s, when I presided over the Sixth-Seventh Ward, which included this very area where we meet tonight, we had 87 widows and 1,080 members. It was a transient area, coupled with old-line families. I have seen hunger and want, and I have watched wonderful people grow old and infirm. I developed very young in life a spirit of compassion for others who might be in need, regardless of age or circumstance.

Many are the blessings which result when the law of the fast is observed. Let me illustrate. Fifty-two years ago, when World War II came to a close and Europe lay devastated, hunger stalked the streets, infectious diseases were everywhere to be found, and the people had given up hope. A call came for aid, and President George Albert Smith, then President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, went to see President Harry S Truman to get permission to send aid to the starving people throughout Europe. President Truman listened to President Smith and then said, “I like what you plan to do. How long will it take you to assemble the goods you would like to send and prepare them for shipment?”

President Smith responded, “President Truman, the goods are all assembled. One nod from you and the trains will roll, and ships will sail, and those supplies will be on their way.”

It happened exactly that way, with Ezra Taft Benson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, delivering the supplies in behalf of the Church.

I was in Zwickau, Germany, several years ago, and an elderly gentleman came up to me and said, “President Monson, I want you to tell President Ezra Taft Benson that the food he brought after the war—food sent by the Church—kept me from starving. It gave me hope for the future.” I was deeply touched as I listened to his expressions of gratitude.

May I say a word or two concerning humanitarian aid as compared to conventional welfare aid. The term humanitarian aid is a relatively new designation for help extended beyond the basic welfare program. An example of humanitarian aid can be seen in the Church’s response in 1985 to the needs of famine-stricken Ethiopia. As the suffering there became apparent, our members in the United States and Canada were invited to participate in two special fast days. The contributions went to this cause. The proceeds received from these two fast days exceeded $11 million dollars and provided much-needed aid to the people in Ethiopia, Chad, and other sub-Saharan nations. Not one cent was deducted for overhead, for that was also an offering. The funds were not invested to obtain interest. Rather, they were given freely to meet the need.

We have collaborated in these projects with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (American and International), Catholic Relief Services, CARE, and so on. Hunger knows no ecclesiastical boundary. We can provide hope; we can preserve life. Rotary is part of that great pledge.

Examples of the Church working in partnership with other community, state, and private organizations to assist the needy include the following:

  • Providing food from the Church welfare system and furnishings from the former Hotel Utah to local agencies as diverse as the Salvation Army, Jewish Family Services, Travelers Aid, and the Indian Alcoholism Recovery Center.

  • Providing $75,000 and volunteers to help with Columbia University’s Family-to-Family “home evening” program in Harlem, New York City. Although in its initial stages, this program reportedly has already produced more positive results than many of the social and economic programs Columbia University previously initiated.

  • Providing the Cambodian Royal University of Agriculture with the equipment and trained experts needed to establish a food canning and processing program.

  • Helping the National Council of Negro Women in Zimbabwe support projects to assist people in need of food, clothing, and medical supplies.

We are often asked about the extent and nature of Church humanitarian assistance. While we feel that such work should not be trumpeted, the following provides a sense of what is being done. From 1985 to the present, humanitarian efforts have resulted in:

• Number of projects


• Countries served


• Total value of assistance

$162.5 million

• Food distributed

9,800 tons

• Surplus clothing distributed

20,798 tons

• Medical equipment distributed

894 tons

• Educational material distributed

794 tons

• Major disaster assistance efforts



• Mexico fire


• Bangladesh cyclone and flooding


• China earthquake


• Philippines Mount Pinatubo volcano


• Bosnia civil conflict


• Africa drought


• Croatia civil conflict


• Hurricane Andrew


• Midwest U.S. flooding


• Northridge, California, earthquake


• Rwanda relief


• Bosnia-Croatia-Serbia relief


• Japan earthquake


• North Korea crop failure


In 1996 alone, suffering populations in various nations around the world received through Church humanitarian aid the following:

  • Sufficient clothing to outfit an estimated 8.7 million people in 58 countries.

  • Over 1 million pounds of medical and educational equipment and supplies to 70 countries.

  • English instruction to more than 3,000 people.

As famine has deepened in North Korea, where we have no members of our faith, they have had a great need for help to eliminate starvation among children and others. We have been able to provide:

  • 2,150 tons of corn, powdered milk, flour, and medical supplies.

  • 400 tons of fertilizer, pesticides, and seeds.

  • Over 500 seedling apple trees.

  • Total assistance to date amounting to $3.1 million dollars.

There are ships on the ocean waves right now taking more food to the starving in North Korea. I am happy we could help.

In 1992 a devastating hurricane named Andrew struck the east coast of Florida, leaving a path of ruin behind it, with homes battered, roofs gone, people hungry. Our members were there to help. Home after home was cleaned and repaired without charge. It mattered not the faith or color of the person who occupied the home. One Saturday morning after the storm abated, we needed about 100 men to start putting new sheeting on the roofs and to clean up and repair the damaged homes. We sent out the word for 100 volunteers. More than 300 came, some from as far away as New York and Connecticut. Others came from the Carolinas. They drove south and worked in shifts until all the homes that they could possibly enter were repaired and the roofs restored.

Far away in the foothills on the western slopes of Mount Kenya, along the fringe of the colossal Rift Valley, pure water is now coming to the thirsty people. A potable water project has changed the lives of more than 1,100 families. When we originally became aware of the need for pure water, we were able to help fund a project in cooperation with TechnoServe, a private voluntary organization. With villagers providing the labor, drinkable water now flows through 25 miles of pipes to waiting homes in a 15-village area. The simple blessing of safe drinking water recalls the words of the Lord, “I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink.”4

In the early part of this decade we collaborated with Rotary International in its PolioPlus endeavor, the goal being to eliminate that dreaded disease. As a young man in high school, I witnessed firsthand the start of the polio epidemic in Salt Lake City. Every day it seemed that someone at school came down with polio. If you have ever seen an iron lung or a child who has suffered from the devastating infirmities of polio, you understand what blessings have come to countless individuals because your club has had the vision and the faith to accomplish what you have to eliminate polio. A bronze statue was given to the Church by Rotary officers expressing thanks for our substantial contribution in this effort. The Church purchased sufficient polio serum to immunize 300,000 children and also helped place gas and electric refrigerators in rural health outposts to keep vaccines viable until they were administered to the children. As a result of this joint endeavor, Rotary International has ensured that every child in Kenya is protected from this crippling disease. One never goes wrong by helping a child.

There are other problems that can be solved when people such as the Rotarians tackle them. I understand that you plan, through your foundation and others who help, to wipe out polio worldwide by the year 2000. I cannot think of a finer goal.

As a Church we try to help people to help themselves. We strive to promote humanitarian initiatives that encourage self-reliance. Examples include:

  • Village banking in Guatemala that significantly improves the nutrition levels and financial stability of families.

  • Micro-enterprise projects such as one in Armenia that combines knitting skills and business management training initiatives.

  • Surgical initiatives in the Philippines that correct physical defects such as cleft palates, deformed limbs, and hearing and sight impairments, and not a cent goes to the doctors. It all goes to the child.

  • Vocational skills training in Guatemala and India, such as machine repair and electrical or computer training, that leads to productive employment.

The Church cooperates with and assists those of other faiths. Such efforts include:

  • Assistance for parishioners of burned Protestant churches.

  • Food, clothing, furnishings, and capital contributions to Catholic Community Services and Catholic Relief Services. I’d like to say that we have sent millions of dollars of supplies through Catholic Charities. It has been a wonderful association, and we keep that current as of today.

  • Clothing to the Russian Orthodox Church.

  • Clothing and food to the Adventist Development and Relief Agency of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

  • Food processing facilities and volunteers to assist the Islamic Society of North America.

Sixteen years ago I was called to be a member of President Ronald Reagan’s Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives. He knew much concerning our welfare program. On one occasion when we were meeting together, he said to others in the White House, pointing to me, “In this man’s church, the members frequently donate their time to can tomatoes and put up corn and other produce for the needy. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us did that?”

When we can work together cooperatively to lift the level of life for so many people, we can accomplish anything. When we do so, we eliminate the weakness of one person standing alone and substitute the strength of many serving together. While we may not be able to do everything, we can and must do something.

In doing some research for this message, I was happy to note that Rotary International is a great moving force in eliminating illiteracy throughout the world. I thought it might be interesting for you to know that the Relief Society organization of our Church has as a primary goal and objective, among other goals, to eradicate illiteracy.

Some time ago I was on an assignment in Monroe, Louisiana. At the conclusion of my meetings, I went to the airport to board the plane to Salt Lake City. While I was waiting, an African-American lady came up to me and gave me a big hug. She said: “President Monson, I want to tell you my story. My family and I were all poor sharecroppers. We had nothing. But then the women of the Relief Society, white women, taught me to read and taught me to write. Today I help teach white women how to read and how to write.” She then expressed her gratitude and love for what the women had done for her. I reflected on the supreme happiness she must have felt when she was able to open her Bible and read for the first time those beautiful words of the Lord:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”5

A legendary figure of the past from government and politics nationally, in addition to being a General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was President J. Reuben Clark Jr. He had been undersecretary of state and ambassador to Mexico and had written some of the treaties for the Allied powers. I had the privilege of printing his books for him. For the period of a year I had the unique opportunity of meeting with him every day for an hour or so. During these times I came to appreciate his great wisdom. On one occasion President Clark made this statement: “The real long term objective of the Welfare Plan is the building of character in the members of the Church, givers and receivers, rescuing all that is finest down deep inside of them, and bringing to flower and fruitage the latent richness of the spirit, which after all is the mission and purpose and reason for being of this Church.”6

God bless all who endeavor to be their brother’s keeper, who give to ameliorate suffering, who strive with all that is good within them to make a better world. Have you noticed that such individuals have a brighter smile? Their footsteps are more certain. They have an aura about them of contentment and satisfaction—even dedication—for one cannot participate in helping others without experiencing a rich blessing himself.

Applicable to those who give as you in Rotary give is the adage, “When a bouquet of flowers is given to another, the fragrance of the flowers lingers on the hands of the giver.”

I pray we may have the spirit of giving, the spirit of serving, really the Rotary spirit today and always.

Photography by Craig Dimond, except as noted

Some fruits of Church-donated funds, materials, and volunteer effort (clockwise, from right): crutches help a one-legged Cambodian street sweeper hold a job (right and below); welfare missionary teaches English at a Church employment resource center in Ghana; children in a Moscow nursery benefit from educational materials, toys, books; Church helps fund auto mechanics class at privately owned Spencer W. Kimball Technological Institute, San Pedro, Guatemala; sanitation project with donated materials, Ghana; home enterprise in Guatemala. Top left: Scene in Ghana.

Top left: Church funds made possible this local initiative literacy project in India. (Photo by Isaac Ferguson.) Above: Boxes of food containing a two-week supply for a family of four were distributed in Vladivostok, Russia, after flooding. (Photo by Gary Flake.) Left: Personal enterprise—selling snails, for example—aids some families’ survival in Ghana.

Top: Young girl at literacy class in a Guatemala City chapel. Above: Missionary teaches computer literacy class at YMCA, Madras, India. Right: LDS experts helped set up a model feed mill for chicken farming at Cambodia’s Royal University of Agriculture; Church funds helped establish a cannery for the meat.

Clean, safe water is a blessing for the Ghanaian community where Church funds helped pay for installing a well and pump.

A young hearing-impaired girl is learning to speak at a national institute in India that has been assisted by the Church.

Left: Donated clothing is sorted at a community center on the outskirts of Moscow. Top: A blind student learns chair weaving at a YMCA in Madras, India. The Church has provided support for the program. Above: Cambodians learn food processing.