“Welfare Is the Church”: A Conversation with Junior Wright Child

Junior Wright Child

In 1936 the Lord revealed the concepts of the Church welfare program, and a youthful stake president, Harold B. Lee of the Pioneer Stake, was called by the First Presidency to organize the program. In the decades since then, the program has grown Churchwide, and its importance in aiding the poor and needy and helping Church members help themselves in time of need as well as plenty have been demonstrated many times over.

In 1972 Junior Wright Child was called to serve as managing director of the program, now known as Welfare Services. Under the direction of the Presiding Bishopric, he has a wide range of responsibilities, all designed to help members to be temporally secure and to grow spiritually.

In the following interview with members of the Ensign staff, Brother Child discusses the principles of welfare services, principles that have guided the program from the beginning as well as new directions that have recently been introduced.

Ensign: What is the role of the welfare services program in the gospel?

Brother Child: Welfare services is not only a program of relief for the needy; it is also a principle of the gospel, one of the basic principles. As President Marion G. Romney has said, “Welfare is not a program of the Church. It is the Church.” It is the application of the teachings and principles of the gospel. Our purpose here on the earth is to perfect ourselves so that we can return to the presence of our Father in heaven.

Many of the spiritual truths we must learn and actions that must become part of our lives are inseparably connected to the concepts of welfare services. For instance, the first and great commandment is to love the Lord, and the second, which “is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:39.) How do we show love? “If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me. …” (D&C 42:29.) This is the principle of service. King Benjamin emphasized this when he said, “… when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17.)

Ensign: What is the relationship between this concept of growth and service and other programs of social welfare?

Brother Child: We don’t believe that anyone, no matter how well intentioned, should be allowed to do for a man what he can do for himself. We need to grow—and we don’t grow by letting others do something for us that we can and should do for ourselves.

While others, including governments, may be willing to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves, true sacrifice for others is an eternal and celestial principle of gospel growth and cannot be abdicated if we want to receive the blessings promised.

Ensign: How far does this principle of service and sacrifice extend?

Brother Child: We must realize that we are responsible for ourselves and also all the members of our families. As Paul says, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Tim. 5:8.) The Doctrine and Covenants says that wives have claim upon their husbands and children have claim upon their fathers. (See D&C 83.) President Stephen L Richards, in a talk on family solidarity, said, “I think my food would choke me if I knew that while I could procure bread my aged father or mother or near kin were on public relief.” (General conference, October 8, 1944.)

Ensign: Some members of the Church feel hesitant about accepting aid from their brothers and sisters in the Church and would prefer to go to government agencies.

Brother Child: This attitude exists for many reasons, but it should not be held by any needy worthy Church member. If they hold this attitude they deny others the blessings of sacrificing to help them and they are denying themselves a gospel blessing. Receiving welfare according to your need is part of the Church program. The needy participate in other blessings of the Church; they should also participate in welfare because they have kept the commandments of the Lord, participated in the fast offering program, and have given and are willing now to serve in the welfare plan.

This hesitance disappears when members understand that they will maintain their self-esteem because they will be expected to work “to the extent of their ability” for any assistance they receive. This principle of work is fundamental to welfare.

Ensign: You mentioned fast offering. Would you please explain the use of the fast offering in the welfare services program?

Brother Child: Assistance is rendered in three ways: donated services, commodities produced on stake and ward welfare projects, and, when necessary, cash. This cash assistance comes from the fast offerings of the Church members. Fasting and making an offering is a commandment of the Lord. We should fast the 24 hours preceding the fast and testimony meeting and then make a generous offering. These funds are then used in the wards to assist the needy, and the surplus is used to help members who live in wards where the offerings cannot meet the need. Fasting and making an offering are things almost everyone can do, and keeping this commandment brings spiritual blessings and strength.

Ensign: Brother Child, are there any government welfare programs that are approved by the Church?

Brother Child: Some governments sponsor programs that require an individual and/or his employer to contribute funds that will be used to pay benefits. These programs are approved—in fact, they constitute a part of our own preparation for the future.

Ensign: What percentage of Church members are participants in the welfare services programs?

Brother Child: Everyone. If you mean how many receive temporal benefits, the answer is about 3.8 percent. But the more important benefits, the spiritual benefits, are needed by 100 percent of the Latter-day Saints. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that in order for us to gain perfection, we need to give, to sacrifice, to follow the example of our Savior. Everyone needs to have the opportunity to overcome selfishness and to demonstrate his love of the Lord by his service to his fellowmen.

Ensign: How is this program of service organized on the ward level?

Brother Child: It is the responsibility of the ward welfare services committee, under an outlined program, to relieve the temporal suffering of ward members. This service is very important, but even more important is the role of the committee and priesthood quorums in preparing the family to once again become independent and self-sustaining. Let me give you some examples.

A quorum member who had several children was doing manual labor when he developed a degenerative bone disease, making it impossible for him to walk. After determining the full resources of the man and giving all of his family relatives an opportunity to assist, the welfare services program under the direction of the bishop supplied the needs of the children and took care of the hospital requirements that were not covered by insurance. Then the Melchizedek Priesthood quorum put the father through two years of school. He became a competent bookkeeper, and the quorum found him employment. Now he is completely self-sufficient, although he is on crutches and will be for the rest of his life. But he is meeting his responsibilities of father and husband.

A high priest and his wife had ten children, and they all lived in a five-room home. He had an incurable disease and only a nominal income. His quorum members took upon themselves the project of enlarging his house. They completely doubled the floor space, so there were no more than two children sleeping in any one room; and they added two bathrooms. The father died just before it was completed, but the quorum paid for all the materials and donated all the labor. This widow and her children now have a fine home, all paid for. This is a quorum functioning as it should.

These are perhaps dramatic examples of quorum welfare work, but there are many other examples that, although less dramatic, are just as important. The priesthood quorum has the responsibility of helping families help themselves by assisting them in avoiding and preventing problems through adequate preparation.

The quorum president is responsible for identifying from among his members those who have special skills and capabilities that may be useful to needy members of his quorum. This may mean education, career counseling, job upgrading, job retraining, or similar services.

One of the most important services in which help can be given is budgeting and family finances. There are probably more problems caused by financial mismanagement than anything else. Here is a great area of service where a teacher, a businessman, or an accountant could be of almost unlimited service.

When you consider all the needs of the members of the Church, you can imagine the range of skills and abilities that can be used and that provide opportunities to give, to sacrifice, and thus to grow and develop.

President Lee has said that “what you have to give may be just enough”—and that is exactly right. Maybe it’s a successful couple sharing with a less successful couple, or business, professional, or trades people giving of their special talents. I don’t know a single widow in the Church who doesn’t need some plumbing or painting or fixing up done, so everyone has an opportunity to give.

Ensign: How does the emphasis on priesthood welfare extend to the Aaronic Priesthood?

Brother Child: There are too many young men who leave school and are still unprepared to meet the responsibilities of caring for a home and family. For this reason, education or career counseling and guidance are needed in the preventive stage to avoid welfare assistance being needed later on. This problem is being worked on, as are other excellent programs in the Aaronic Priesthood. The whole concept of preparation and education is a key part of the Aaronic Priesthood training.

Ensign: Brother Child, some people feel that they just don’t have skills to share. What can they give?

Brother Child: Compassionate service. There isn’t anyone who can’t give compassionate service. For example, we conducted a survey, and in one of our stakes, of those persons over 70 who reported to the hospital for attention, more than half had nothing physically wrong. If someone would just have said, “I could read to that person for an hour, or I could check up on her once a day, or I could look in on her, mow her lawn, read the paper to her,” the elderly person might not have had to go to the hospital. Welfare services should bring together people who can serve and the people who need service. This involves everyone in the Relief Society, the Young Adults, and the Special Interests, all working under direction of the priesthood.

Ensign: Perhaps the Church welfare program has gained most of its national recognition because of its assistance in disaster relief programs. How are these great relief efforts organized?

Brother Child: Since the earliest days of the Church it has been the responsibility of a bishop to care for the temporal needs of his people. If a bishop lacked items in caring for the needy he could exchange surpluses from his ward for the needed items with neighboring bishops. From this concept has arisen a churchwide production processing and distribution system.

It is still a principle, however, that assistance should be rendered on a local level, “That … the Church may stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world.” (D&C 78:14.) This means that first of all the family should care for themselves; then the resources of the ward, of the stake, of the region, or of the area should be called upon; and only as a last resort would resources of the entire Church be used. These resources are used in cases of disaster only when such use is specifically authorized by Church headquarters.

Here are two recent examples of this principle: In the devastating floods in Rapid City, South Dakota, the Saints in that area responded immediately to assist the victims of the rampaging water. Clothing, bedding, and warm food were furnished through the efforts of the local Church organization. From Salt Lake City only one truckload of items, such as baby food, diapers, and blankets, was shipped in.

Another example was last December’s earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua. The only thing sent to these Saints from Salt Lake City was typhoid serum shots. All other assistance was acquired locally; the Saints in Costa Rica, arranging the relief supplies and working through government officials, administered the program. It is interesting to note that at one time the Church was the only non-governmental agency allowed to assist in Managua.

Ensign: As a part of our individual preparation, what is the emphasis of the Church today concerning storage programs?

Brother Child: There is throughout the Church today a great concern for storage and individual family preparations. Unfortunately, there are many who take advantage of this interest and profit by selling to the Saints items that may or may not meet this need. Here is another excellent opportunity for the membership of the Church to follow the admonitions and counsel of our present-day prophet:

“We have never laid down an exact formula for what anybody should store, and let me just make this comment: Perhaps if we think not in terms of a year’s supply of what we ordinarily use, and think more in terms of what it would take to keep us alive in case we didn’t have anything else to eat, that last would be very easy to put in storage for a year … just enough to keep us alive if we didn’t have anything else to eat. We wouldn’t get fat on it, but we would live, and if you think in terms of that kind of annual storage rather than a whole year’s supply of everything that you are accustomed to eat, which, in most cases, is utterly impossible for the average family, I think we will come nearer to what President [J. Reuben] Clark advised us way back in 1937.” (President Harold B. Lee, Church Welfare Conference, October 1, 1966.)

Ensign: Brother Child, you have been managing director of Welfare Services of the Church for a year and a half. From that perspective, what is your testimony of this work?

Brother Child: I may be a bit idealistic but I believe that it is the responsibility of Welfare Services to see that the people become like the people of the city of Enoch. That city was translated because the people were of one heart and one mind, lived in righteousness, and had no poor among them. I’m sure those people took care of each other temporally as well as spiritually. I don’t think we can be translated or sanctified any sooner than we are willing to bring this about. We must teach our people the willingness to give—not so much of their goods, but of themselves. As the Lord told Joseph Smith in 1834:

“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 the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment:” (D&C 104:18.)

[photo] Junior Wright Child, managing director of the Welfare Services of the Church.

[photo] When disaster strikes, as it did during a flood last year in Rapid City, South Dakota, local branches of the Church are responsible for aiding Church members. Rapid City Saints were able to provide their own relief with only minimal assistance from Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

[photo] The principle of work is fundamental and can be learned effectively even by the young.

[photo] Thinking in terms of “what it would take to keep us alive in case we didn’t have anything else to eat,” food storage can become a real family project, with even the youngest members helping.