Members Worldwide Follow Prophetic Counsel in Holding a Day of Service
Contributed By Melissa Merrill, Church News and Events
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Church welfare department is gathering stories of members who are participating in a day of service during 2011, in response to the First Presidency’s call. Share your day of service 2011 experiences here.
Six months ago, President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, spoke in general conference about the principles at the foundation of the Church welfare program and the opportunity members of the Church have to give to and serve those in need. Those principles, he said, “are spiritual and eternal,” and when we understand them, it becomes “possible for us to see and take opportunities to help whenever and wherever the Lord invites us.”
President Eyring then invited units of the Church everywhere to participate in a day of service to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Church welfare program (an invitation that was later repeated in a First Presidency letter sent to all units) and then shared four principles that he said have guided him when he “wanted to help in the Lord’s way” and when he has been helped by others.
In the past six months, wards and branches, stakes and districts and missions, quorums and classes, and families and communities across the world have responded to President Eyring’s prophetic call, and in the process they’re embodying the principles he outlined.
Principle 1: “All people are happier and feel more self-respect when they can provide for themselves and their family and then reach out to take care of others.”
Perhaps among the first stakes to respond to the First Presidency’s invitation to participate in a day of service was the David Stake in Panama, which organized a preparedness fair for the broader community. The event, which was supported by several public entities, featured workshops and demonstrations on topics related to home storage, family finances, emergency preparedness, and health.
It isn’t enough just to know these principles for ourselves, said Itzel Valdez Gonzalez, who participated in the day of service. It’s also important to serve others by sharing them.
“Service to others is an important characteristic of the followers of Jesus Christ,” she said. “[This event provided] opportunities for members of the Church to give of their time and talents to bless those in need.”
Principle 2: “When we join hands to serve people in need, the Lord unites our hearts.”
When President Spear Mwakila of the Arusha Branch in Tanzania assigned Patience Rwiza to be the chairman of the Helping Hands committee, he asked Brother Rwiza to identify organizations in their local community that they might be able to serve.
Brother Rwiza, who had been serving as branch president the year before when the branch participated in its first Helping Hands project, said he “felt a sense of responsibility and [recognized a] wonderful opportunity to express love and care to the community.” He made the decision of how to help not just a point of research and discussion but also a matter of prayer before presenting three possibilities to President Mwakila. One of the possibilities was the Shanga House, a facility that gives vocational training to people with disabilities and teaches them how to provide a living for themselves and their families.
On August 20, 2011, 35 participants from the Arusha Branch—adults, youth, and children; Church members, investigators, and missionaries—worked alongside people with disabilities in making craft items and jewelry that would later be sold. The people at Shanga House “seemed so pleased and happy to teach us their skills,” said Sister Sandra Rydalch, who is serving a mission in the area with her husband, Rich.
The volunteers also helped with household chores like cleaning and sweeping. And just before the group departed, Shanga House coordinators asked them to come to a central area so that they and the people whom they had served could shake hands with and thank the group members. “It was quite an emotional experience,” Sister Rydalch said.
A week later, branch representatives returned to Shanga House to present a DVD they had made using footage of their afternoon together. And since that time, when people from Shanga House see members of the branch downtown, “they readily recognize us, wave, and stop to visit,” Sister Rydalch said.
“It is a commandment of our Heavenly Father to serve one another,” President Mwakila said. “[The people we served] are children of our Heavenly Father, and by doing this project, I felt we were doing His work.”
Brother Rwiza points out that the activity was beneficial not just for those at Shanga House but also for those who offered the service. “People developed a sense of love by helping others, and along the process, people learned things from the community that they didn’t know before,” he said. “My testimony has been strengthened with what I did and saw from the members’ participation and the community as a whole.”
Principle 3: “Draw your family into the work with you so that they can learn to care for each other as they care for others.”
In Portugal, members across the country are working to recruit their fellow Latter-day Saints, their families, and their friends to participate in a blood drive on December 17. But, just as in other areas, the members of the Coimbra Stake realize that service is not a one-time event.
In fact, the stake participates in several activities each year under the Mormon Helping Hands umbrella. So far in 2011, the stake members have cleaned a public park and wooded area, and the Primary children of the stake have visited other children who live in an orphanage. Other projects, including a Christmas dinner for the homeless, are in the works.
In these and other activities, it is important to involve whole families, said Anabela Jordão Ferreira, who serves as the public affairs director for the Coimbra Stake.
“In our projects, we sometimes say that we accept people from 8 months old to 88 years old,” said Sister Jordão. “That is completely true. We see mothers with babies and grandfathers who have mobility difficulties, but they also have a strong testimony and the will to serve the Lord.
“It’s important that our children meet a reality different from the one they know and sometimes don’t appreciate,” she continued. “It’s important for them to learn to count their blessings and to experience service opportunities at a young age.”
Principle 4: “The Lord sends the Holy Ghost to make it possible to ‘seek, and ye shall find’ in caring for the poor as He does in finding truth.”
When Brother Michael Hatch, who serves on the high council in the Farmington New Mexico Stake, was given the assignment to organize a stake day of service in response to President Eyring’s invitation, he wondered where they would find ideas for ministering to the poor in their community. He met in council with his committee, and they and other stake leaders encouraged stake members to share their ideas relating to needs in the community.
Roberta Rogers knew of a particular need among several organizations in the area—including the hospital where she works in community relations. While clothing drives usually generated helpful donations of used pants, shirts, shoes, and coats, what many charities still needed were things like socks, underwear, and pajamas—donations that needed to come new. Sister Rogers suggested that the stake organize a collection of such items.
Brother Hatch made several calls to local homeless shelters, clinics, halfway houses, and other facilities and learned that the need for these items was great. So on October 15, stake members will distribute 1,000 cardstock door hangers in their own neighborhoods. The door hangers are printed with an explanation of the project, an invitation for community members to join Church members in their “unmentionables drive,” and a list of the specific items needed. One week later, on October 22, stake members will go back to collect the items.
From there, stake members will bring the items to the stake center, where they will be sorted and then distributed to 10 local charitable organizations.
Brother Hatch acknowledges that it’s not a traditional service project. But, he said, “we felt it was something we could involve the community in. Our stake could be the driving force.”
And that combined effort will meet an urgent need in their community, Sister Rogers said. “It’s something different, and it’s going to help someone. And because it’s not really expensive, one family could spend [a few] dollars and really be able to help somebody.”
Of course, in other instances, needs are much more apparent. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in the United States, the Montpelier Vermont Stake has logged thousands of service hours.
Although the stake has long been working with local cemeteries to document gravesites and record GPS locations for them—a project that is still ongoing—the call for help in relief efforts was impossible to ignore.
“Service opportunities present themselves in the moment of need and preparation,” said Bret Weekes, president of the Montpelier Vermont Stake. “Much has been taught by the Lord and His prophets on this principle, but perhaps we don’t often have opportunity to see it in stark enough contrast to appreciate and understand those teachings—that is, until a real crisis is presented. Then the urgency of the moment creates the contrast for us, and we see the relative window of opportunity.”
He added that because service is directly related to the law of sacrifice, members who cultivate an attitude of readiness hear and act on the promptings of the Holy Ghost when less-obvious opportunities for service are presented. He saw this principle in action as he observed the stake young men president during recent cleanup activities.
“He was on his way to a planned service event,” said President Weekes, “but as he began to drive through his neighborhood, where a number of homes had been impacted, he noticed a home where his neighbor was laboring by himself to clean out his basement. Hearing the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, he stopped, and rather than going to the planned event, he spent the day in service at the home of this man. They talked of life and of the gospel, and both were blessed through the association and service.”
And even though the Holy Ghost will guide us, it’s important that we first be looking for opportunities to help others, he said.
“You cannot find those things you do not seek,” said President Weekes. “If one desires to see the needs around him or her, one must first seek the companionship of the Holy Ghost with the intent to seek after those who are in need and have a willingness to act. … Knowing someone has needs is very different from being willing to put down the project or desire of the moment and go and do service. … I would suggest we train ourselves not to [simply] observe, but rather to be quick to serve.”
President Eyring said, “[The Lord] loves His children in need and also those who want to help. And He has created ways to bless both those who need help and those who will give it.”
These members, and countless others throughout the world, are finding those blessings by following the call of modern-day prophets to serve others.
“I feel happy to belong to this work, and even more so to have leaders inspired for our progress,” said Benjamin Jaramillo War, who participated in the David Panama Stake’s welfare fair. In offering his talents in such service opportunities, he said, his faith and testimony are strengthened.
So it is for Sister Jordão in Portugal. “I’m an action person,” she said. “My service in the Church makes my testimony and my love for the gospel grow stronger every day. If we were called by a prophet to do such a simple thing as dedicate 1 in 365 days of the year to serve our communities, I can’t find any reasonable argument not to do it—it’s just as simple as that!”