I have been gaining a stronger testimony recently that many Church programs are not simply organizations made up by man to help the members of the Church. They are revealed programs by the Lord, and existed in the ancient Church, whether they were called by the same name. Recently the leaders of the Church have been testifying of the organization of the Relief Society and the Welfare program, reminding us that these programs existed in Christ’s day, even if they were called something else.
Bishop H. David Burton said, “It is in the benevolent practice of sacrifice and giving of ourselves to others that we learn the celestial principles of sacrifice and consecration.” Since celestial glory is the goal of members of the Church, learning to live celestial principles is definitely our goal here on earth. The principles of welfare are really principles of sacrifice and consecration, two covenants that we make with our Father.
The welfare work is led by bishops all over the world to help the members of the ward – not just those who attend their congregation, but those within their ward boundaries who are in need of assistance. That seems like a huge responsibility, but the bishops are assisted by ward councils including Relief Society presidents, who, President Eyring said, may receive revelation for how to help before the bishop does.
I was really impressed by the story Bishop Burton told of the priesthood leader in South America who was distressed by the hunger and poverty of the members of his ward. Instead of writing to Church headquarters for food or clothing, the priesthood leader found a little plot of land, and with help from the brethren and sisters in the ward cultivated the land and grew crops to feed the ward member – despite trials and setbacks.
I think this is the key to the welfare program of the Church – it is not simply to help people, but to “help people help themselves.” The whole gospel message is that – the leaders of the Church can teach us the principles of the gospel, and can provide a place to meet, and manuals and scriptures to study, but we have to do the actual work. We have to want to become spiritually self-sufficient, just as we have to want to become temporally self-provident. Of course, we cannot become self-proficient at anything without the necessary tools, so it is our job as members of Christ’s kingdom to help give our neighbors the things they need to learn how to help themselves.
Bishop Burton gave a great illustration of how we have to take care of the temporal needs of those who also have spiritual needs.
In 1897 a young David O. McKay stood at a door with a tract in his hand. As a missionary in Stirling, Scotland, he had done this many times before. But on that day a very haggard woman opened the door and stood before him. She was poorly dressed and had sunken cheeks and unkempt hair.
She took the tract Elder McKay offered to her and spoke six words that he subsequently would never forget: “Will this buy me any bread?”
This encounter left a lasting impression on the young missionary. He later wrote: “From that moment I had a deeper realization that the Church of Christ should be and is interested in the temporal salvation of man. I walked away from the door feeling that that [woman], with … bitterness in[her heart] toward man and God, [was] in no position to receive the message of the gospel. [She was] in need of temporal help, and there was no organization, so far as I could learn, in Stirling that could give it to[her].”1
The Savior himself often healed physical infirmities before healing spirits. He knew that when people feel taken care of they are more likely to accept the gospel. I would not believe in a gospel or a Church that preached anything but left its members out in the cold. President Gordon B. Hinckley told members in distress that, “As long as the Church has resources, we will not let you go hungry or without clothing or without shelter. We shall do all that we can to assist in the way that the Lord has designated that it should be done.” Bishop Burton quoted President Heber J. Grant who said he would “close the seminaries, shut down missionary work for a period of time, or even close the temples, but they would not let the people go hungry.” What a beautiful statement – the welfare program of the Church is truly inspired.
It seems to me that the success of the Church’s welfare program is based on the self-sufficiency of the members, and the education and eventual self-sufficiency of those who may receive assistance at one time or another. Bishop Burton listed the foundational principles of self-reliance, “avoid debt, implement principles of thrift, prepare for times of distress, listen to and follow the words of the living oracles, develop the discipline to distinguish between needs and wants and then live accordingly.” I thought it was interesting that a principle of self-reliance would be to listen to and follow the words of the prophets. But, indeed, following the prophets leads not only to spiritual prosperity, but temporal prosperity as well.
Bishop Burton’s talk is inspiring me to be more self-sufficient so that I can contribute to the welfare work of God’s kingdom. It also gives me the courage to ask for help when I need it. When we help each other and consecrate our time and means for each other and for the Church, we are truly learning the meaning of sacrifice and consecration.
In what ways do you participate in the Church’s welfare program? Have you had to accept help from the welfare program? Did you feel more able to provide for your family because of the assistance of the Church? How have you been able to help others as you have become self reliant?