“What Can I Do to Help?” Ensign, Apr. 1999, 30
Question: Does the Church encourage members to get involved in humanitarian relief?
Response: The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that a true Latter-day Saint “is 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 he finds them” (Times and Seasons, 15 Mar. 1842, 732). We would do well to follow the example of the Saints in Alma’s day who “did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick … therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need” (Alma 1:30).
Q: Many people see suffering in the world and want to do something to help, but they don’t know how. Where do you recommend they begin?
R: President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, has suggested that “opportunities are everywhere. Needed are eyes to see the pitiable plight and ears to hear the silent pleadings of a broken heart” (“Never Alone,” Ensign, May 1991, 61). Sometimes people feel they have to travel to another country to find those who are truly in need, but my experience has shown that every neighborhood has people who are suffering and in need.
Mother Teresa, known worldwide for her charitable work in the slums of India, pointed out that there are types of poverty that may be more painful than hunger, and they are not confined to the world’s poor areas. “Perhaps what my husband or wife lacks, what my children lack, what my parents lack, is not clothes or food. Perhaps they lack love, because I do not give it to them” (José Luís Gonzalez-Balado, Mother Teresa: In My Own Words , 51). Perhaps the first thing we should ask ourselves is, How can we help those in our own families? in our own neighborhood? in our own city?
Q: Can you suggest some practical steps a person interested in humanitarian service might take?
R: There are a number of options you may want to consider. One of the most helpful things you can do is pay a generous fast offering.
If you want to help on a local level, ask your bishop or Relief Society president if help is needed in the ward. Or volunteer at agencies that help people in your community. Some serve meals to the homeless; others teach adults to read; still others provide teachers’ aides for schools. Find one that interests you and offer your time and talents.
Members may volunteer to fill humanitarian service missions in response to bulletin items sent monthly to bishops. Or they may contact the Church’s Missionary Department (1-801-240-2222) about additional needs throughout the world. Still, those who volunteer may be asked to fill other missions in areas where their talents are particularly needed.
Additionally, you can write the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center (1665 Bennett Road, Salt Lake City, UT 84104) for a set of guidelines on making items that will be of use to others. These items may range from hygiene kits to leper bandages. Some items you may be able to distribute locally when you complete them, or you may want to send them to the Humanitarian Center for international distribution.
You can donate usable items to Deseret Industries.
You can give generously to the Church’s Humanitarian Aid Fund. The “Tithing and Other Offerings” donation slip has been changed to include a space for these donations. All of the money goes to help the poor and needy of the world without regard to race, religion, or nationality.
President Howard W. Hunter, then Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, “The touchstone of compassion is a measure of our discipleship” (“The Lord’s Touchstone,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 35). It seems to me that perhaps the best advice I can give to those who want to help is to begin. Don’t wait for an assignment. Don’t wait to be told what and where and how. Begin. There is work enough to do, and as we become anxiously engaged in this good cause and help others of our own free will, it will bring to pass much righteousness (see D&C 58:27), our lives will be richer, and through our example others will be lifted and prompted to lift those around them.