Last year, while serving in the Asia North Area Presidency, I received a phone call from President Russell M. Nelson inviting me to serve as the Second Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric. He graciously invited my wife, Lori, to join the conversation. After the call was finished, we were still in a state of disbelief when my wife asked, “What does the Presiding Bishopric do anyway?” After a moment’s reflection, I responded, “I don’t know exactly!”
A year later—and after profound feelings of humility and gratitude—I can answer my wife’s question with greater understanding. Among many other things, the Presiding Bishopric oversees the welfare and humanitarian work of the Church. This work now spans the entire globe and blesses more of God’s children than ever before.
As a Presiding Bishopric, we are assisted by wonderful Church employees and others, including the Relief Society General Presidency, who serve with us on the Church’s Welfare and Self-Reliance Executive Committee. In our capacity as members of that committee, the First Presidency asked me—as well as Sister Sharon Eubank, who spoke to us last evening—to share with you an update on the Church’s recent humanitarian efforts. They also particularly requested that we express their profound gratitude—because, brothers and sisters, it is you who have made those humanitarian efforts possible.
As we observed with concern the early economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis across the world, we could have easily expected a decline in the monetary contributions which the Saints were able to give. After all, our own members were not immune to the setbacks from the pandemic. Imagine our feelings when we observed just the opposite! Humanitarian donations in 2020 turned out to be the highest ever—and are trending even higher this year. As a result of your generosity, the Church has been able to realize its most extensive response since the inception of the Humanitarian Fund, with over 1,500 COVID relief projects in more than 150 countries. These donations, which you have given so selflessly to the Lord, have been converted to life-sustaining food, oxygen, medical supplies, and vaccinations for those who might otherwise have gone without.
Just as significant as the contribution of goods is the tremendous outpouring of time and energy which Church members donate to humanitarian causes. Even as the pandemic has raged, natural disasters, civil conflict, and economic instability have been unrelenting and have continued to drive millions of people from their homes. The United Nations now reports that there are over 82 million forcibly displaced people in the world.1 Add to this the millions of others who elect to flee from poverty or oppression in search of a better life for themselves or their children, and you can begin to catch a glimpse of the magnitude of this global situation.
I am pleased to report that thanks to the volunteer time and talents of so many, the Church operates refugee and immigrant welcome centers in multiple locations in the United States and Europe. And thanks to your contributions, we provide goods, funding, and volunteers to help similar programs run by other organizations throughout the world.
May I extend my heartfelt gratitude to those Saints who have reached out to feed, clothe, and befriend these refugees and help them become established and self-sufficient.
Yesterday evening, Sister Eubank shared with you a few of the Saints’ wonderful efforts in this regard. As I reflect on these efforts, my thoughts often turn to the principle of sacrifice and the direct connection of this principle to the two great commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor.
In modern usage, the term sacrifice has come to connote the concept of “giving up” things for the Lord and His kingdom. However, in ancient days, the meaning of the word sacrifice was more closely tied to its two Latin roots: sacer, meaning “sacred” or “holy,” and facere, meaning “to make.”2 Thus, anciently sacrifice meant literally “to make something or someone holy.”3 Viewed as such, sacrifice is a process of becoming holy and coming to know God, not an event or ritualistic “giving up” of things for the Lord.
The Lord said, “I desired [charity], and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”4 The Lord wants us to become holy,5 to be possessed of charity,6 and to come to know Him.7 As the Apostle Paul taught, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”8 Ultimately, the Lord wants our hearts; He wants us to become new creatures in Christ.9 As He instructed the Nephites, “Ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”10
Sacrifice is less about “giving up” and more about “giving to” the Lord. Engraved upon the entrance to each of our temples are the words “Holiness to the Lord; the House of the Lord.” As we observe our covenants by sacrifice, we are made holy through the grace of Jesus Christ; and at the altars of the holy temple, with broken hearts and contrite spirits, we give our holiness to the Lord. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “The submission of one’s will [or heart11] is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. … However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him!”12
When our sacrifices on behalf of others are viewed from the perspective of “giving up,” we may see them as a burden and become discouraged when our sacrifices are not recognized or rewarded. However, when viewed from the perspective of “giving to” the Lord, our sacrifices on behalf of others become gifts, and the joy of generously giving becomes its own reward. Freed from the need for love, approval, or appreciation from others, our sacrifices become the purest and deepest expressions of our gratitude and love for the Savior and our fellow men. Any prideful sense of self-sacrifice gives way to feelings of gratitude, generosity, contentment, and joy.13
Something is made holy—whether it be our lives, our possessions, our time, or our talents—not simply by giving it up but rather by consecrating14 it to the Lord. The humanitarian work of the Church is such a gift. It is the product of the collective, consecrated offerings of the Saints, a manifestation of our love for God and His children.15
Steve and Anita Canfield are representative of Latter-day Saints throughout the world who have experienced for themselves the transformative blessings of giving to the Lord. As welfare and self-reliance missionaries, the Canfields were asked to provide aid at refugee camps and immigrant centers across Europe. In her professional life, Sister Canfield had been a world-class interior designer, contracted by wealthy clients to beautify their luxury homes. Suddenly she found herself thrust into a world that was the complete opposite, as she served among people who had lost nearly everything in terms of earthly possessions. In her words, she exchanged “marble walkways for dirt floors,” and in doing so she found an immeasurable degree of fulfillment, as she and her husband began to befriend—and soon to love and embrace—those who needed their care.
The Canfields observed, “We did not feel as though we had ‘given up’ anything to serve the Lord. Our desire was simply to ‘give to’ Him our time and energies to bless His children in whatever way He saw fit to use us. As we worked alongside our brothers and sisters, any outward appearances—any differences in backgrounds or belongings—dissolved for us, and we simply saw one another’s hearts. There is no degree of career success or material gains that could have equaled the way that these experiences, serving among the humblest of God’s children, enriched us.”
The Canfields’ story and so many others like it have helped me appreciate the lyrics of a simple yet profound Primary song:
“Give,” said the little stream,
As it hurried down the hill;
“I’m small, I know, but wherever I go
The fields grow greener still.”
Yes, each of us is small, but together, as we hasten to give to God and our fellow men, wherever we go lives are enriched and blessed.
The third verse of this song is less well known but concludes with this loving invitation:
Give, then, as Jesus gives;
There is something all can give.
Do as the streams and blossoms do:
For God and others live.16
Dear brothers and sisters, as we live for God and others by giving of our means, our time, and yes, even of ourselves, we are leaving the world a little greener, leaving God’s children a little happier, and in the process, becoming a little holier.
May the Lord bless you richly for the sacrifices that you give to Him so freely.
I testify that God lives. “Man of Holiness is his name.”17 Jesus Christ is His Son, and He is the giver of all good gifts.18 May we, through His grace and the observance of our covenants by sacrifice, be made holy and ever give more love and holiness to the Lord.19 In the holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.