Viewpoint: In Relief Society, “Charity Never Faileth”
Contributed By the Church News
“Through Relief Society we practice being disciples of Christ. We learn what He would have us learn, we do what He would have us do, and we become what He would have us become.” —Sister Julie B. Beck, the Church’s 15th general Relief Society president
Three months after Typhoon Haiyan struck Tacloban, Philippines, Merlinda C. Operio stood outside the San Juanico meetinghouse on a sunny Sunday morning and welcomed Church members.
Throughout her city, power lines lay broken and mangled, rubble was piled along the streets, and foundations of homes stood as a reminder of a devastating storm—the deadliest typhoon on record in the country.
Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines on November 8, 2013, destroying more than 1.1 million homes. The storm left more than 6,100 people dead, injured 28,000, and displaced 4.1 million. Some 1,785 people remain missing.
But on that morning Sister Operio chose to speak not of loss, but of recovery and rebuilding.
As the Relief Society president of the San Juanico Ward, she coordinated her ward’s food distribution, relief efforts, and temporary housing projects in the weeks and months after Typhoon Haiyan. Her husband, Joy Operio, ran the generator at the meetinghouse where the Operios and dozens of other families moved after the storm.
Six families—including the Operios—were still living at the San Juanico meetinghouse 12 weeks after the storm. Sister Operio explained that the families—whose homes were being rebuilt through a Church construction program—would vacate the building soon. Only then, she said, would she and her husband have time to fix the roof on their own home and move out of the meetinghouse themselves.
Sister Operio was the last person to leave the Church building. She met her own needs only after helping everyone else in her ward meet theirs.
Her story would not surprise those who are familiar with Relief Society. During the first meeting of the Relief Society on March 17, 1842, Emma Smith said, “We are going to do something extraordinary” (in Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society , preface).
And during the nearly 175 years since, a great “worldwide circle of sisterhood” has done just that.
Sister Julie B. Beck, the Church’s 15th general Relief Society president, said, “Through Relief Society we practice being disciples of Christ. We learn what He would have us learn, we do what He would have us do, and we become what He would have us become” (Daughters in My Kingdom, 7).
Women have been organized in the Church since the Savior lived on the earth. “Although the name may be of modern date, the institution is of ancient origin,” said Sister Eliza R. Snow. “We were told by our martyred prophet that the same organization existed in the church anciently” (Daughters in My Kingdom, 1).
As was modeled so effectively by Sister Operio, much of the work of Relief Society involves charity.
President Thomas S. Monson said charity strengthens the ties of sisterhood in Relief Society:
“In a hundred small ways, all of you wear the mantle of charity,” he said during the September 2010 general Relief Society meeting. “Life is perfect for none of us. Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we recognize that each one is doing her best to deal with the challenges which come her way, and may we strive to do our best to help out.
“Charity has been defined as ‘the highest, noblest, strongest kind of love,’ the ‘pure love of Christ … ; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with [her].’
“‘Charity never faileth.’ May this long-enduring Relief Society motto, this timeless truth, guide you in everything you do. May it permeate your very souls and find expression in all your thoughts and actions.”
President Joseph F. Smith asked Latter-day Saint women to “lead the world and to lead especially the women of the world, in everything that is praise-worthy, everything that is God-like, everything that is uplifting and that is purifying.”
He said, “You are called by the voice of the Prophet of God to do it, to be uppermost, to be the greatest and the best, the purest and the most devoted to the right” (Daughters in My Kingdom, 179–80).
Although the task seems daunting, Latter-day Saint women are promised that as they unite with other faithful women and learn from the example of women who have gone before them, they can prevail over mortal challenges and build the kingdom of God throughout the world. They can say, “Now it is our turn—our turn to serve and write a chapter on the pages of Relief Society’s history” (Daughters in My Kingdom, 181).
After Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, traveled to the disaster zone to offer support and comfort.
“I knew I needed to come [to Tacloban],” Sister Burton said in an interview with the Church News while she was in the Philippines. “I knew I needed to hug the sisters. I knew I couldn’t do much else, but I knew I needed to come to Tacloban and hug the people that I could” (Church News, Mar. 9, 2014).
That love for other people—and commitment to them—is something Sister Burton shares with Sister Operio and with Relief Society sisters across the globe.
President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, said charitable service is the spiritual legacy of every member of the Relief Society. “You pass the heritage along as you help others receive the gift of charity in their hearts,” he said. “They will then be able to pass it to others. The history of Relief Society is recorded in words and numbers, but the heritage is passed heart to heart” (Daughters in My Kingdom, 176).