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Summertime is upon us, and millions of tourists will soon be coming to Utah to see its dazzling scenery in its five National Parks, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and our various temples there. Many of them will tour our Humanitarian Center and Welfare Square in Salt Lake City.
And jaws will drop. Even more astounding than the scenery there, is the quiet avalanche of humanitarian aid sent by our church to all corners of the world, to help those in need, whether they’re members or not. And wherever you live, you are part of this effort.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, once spoke of a group of Jewish rabbis who were amazed at the voluntary hours and funds donated without any expectation of reward or recognition. All over the world, we quietly assemble hygiene kits and make quilts and donate blankets and clothing. And then these items pour into Salt Lake City to help humanity whenever disaster strikes. Trucks stand loaded, ready to roll to the airport, as boxes and boxes of LDS aid are first on the ground in areas where urgent crises arise. From food to mosquito nets to medicine to wheelchairs to baby bottles, we’re on it.
In D&C 104:18 the Lord admonishes us: “Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.” If we live a life of selfishness and forget our fellowman, we can be certain our souls will grieve when we are brought to a realization of this serious sin. But conversely, we are greatly blessed by God when we do his will and rescue his children.
Nonmembers are often stunned when they learn about Fast Offerings, and how we fast for two meals each month, donating what we would have spent on them, to benefit the poor. And then, unlike so many other charities, there’s no highly-paid staff to subtract a significant chunk of the donations—every dollar goes to relieve the plight of our devastated brothers and sisters around the world.
And these sacred funds are just that: Sacred. We know we are helping in God’s work when we donate generously to help one another. We feel a connection to strangers who will wear the caps we’ve knitted, eat the food we’ve canned, and sleep under the quilts we’ve made.
Those of us with some stewardship over these funds feel a special obligation to honor the sacrifice of those who have provided for the needy. We take seriously the Individual contributions which often come from those least able to part with their substance. Time and again we are humbled as we see people in dire straits nevertheless finding a way to donate all that they are able. They are living examples of faith in action, people who are showing God how much they love him and trust in his promises.
Victor L. Brown once quoted a letter he had received from Elder John H. Groberg, along with a check for $1,000 in fast offerings. At that time Elder Groberg was president of the Tongan mission, and explained that Tonga was one of the poorest countries in the world, where the average wage “is only around 12 cents per hour if you are lucky enough to have a job.” He wrote of visiting a poor widow on a distant island, amid mud, decay, and the ever-present smell of drying fish. “As we conversed in her fluid native tongue and she told of her love for and faith in the Church and of all the blessings she had received, I could not help but think about her apparently miserable circumstances. … All sorts of ideas went through my mind, and I must have let my thoughts wander as I suddenly became aware that somewhere between phrases about blessings and poverty and service she had gone to her hut and was now returning with a small knotted rag.
“Suddenly my mind seemed to fill with light, and the words ‘fast offerings’ flooded in. I was so excited with the idea that had come so suddenly and so clearly, that you can imagine my utter amazement and unpreparedness when she took a threepence (a coin worth about 3¢) from her rag and said softly, ‘Here is my fast offering … to help the poor.’
“I wanted to explain that fast offering was to help her, not for her to help others. The explanation never came, for as I looked through misty eyes, first at the threepence then back at the good sister, the whole scene changed.
“The hut was a glowing mansion and the mud was gold. … The world seemed to stand still for a moment. All of nature seemed to stop and listen as from the heavens the whole universe seemed filled with the reassuring words: ‘Blessed are the poor … for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matt. 5:3.)
“As the setting sun signaled the end of the day, so it also told of the approaching end of her beautiful life of service.
“I took the threepence, and as I write this check the whole experience once again fills my mind and I wonder, ‘How many threepences to make a thousand dollars?’”
I have never forgotten this story, and I think of this widow every time I fill out an order for food assistance. I picture the hut, her knotted rag, and the joy that enveloped both Elder Groberg and this poor widow. And I know her story is repeated thousands of times over throughout the world, as humble members who know their Father in Heaven, assist Him in rescuing others. It gives me pause, it makes me very careful about the disbursement of these sacred funds, and it makes me grateful to belong to the same restored gospel as someone so mighty in spirit.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books and YouTube Mom videos are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.