When Vicky Dalia was stranded because her car had quit working, Nate McLaughlin, a fellow member of the Waterville Ward, Bangor Maine Stake, was on the scene within a few minutes to transport Vicky and her children to their destination. Then Nate called another ward member, Roland Paquet, to start her car so it could be driven to a service station for repairs.
How had Nate known that Vicky needed help? Steve Eaton, a ward member working as a reporter for a local newspaper, had heard a police report that Vicky’s car was broken down and had called Nate to help her. Vicky was a sister in need, and Steve and Nate, as members of her ward family, were watching out for her.
“Members of our ward are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to serve,” says Bishop Robert Fletcher of the Waterville Ward. “There’s sort of an ‘all for one and one for all’ feeling in our ward. People know that the ward is there for them.”
That kind of feeling is common in the more than 22,000 wards and branches of the Church, where countless good deeds seem to sprout spontaneously to bless members’ lives. Service within wards and branches blossoms not only during catastrophic disasters but also in response to the problems of everyday living. It is seen in organized service projects and in individual acts of kindness. Frequently, this willingness to assist others extends into the community.
Helping others becomes a natural response for Church members because of the covenants we make. As we take the name of Jesus Christ upon ourselves and become his disciples, we learn to love others and to seek to bless their lives as he did. Alma the Elder spoke of this spiritual growth to a group of followers of Christ preparing for baptism in the waters of Mormon:
“And now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
“Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, …
“What have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness … that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?” (Mosiah 18:8–10.)
The ward family provides countless soul-enriching opportunities to reach out in love and support to those we call “brother” and “sister.” Following are just a few of the ways we can find these opportunities.
1. Learn to think like a shepherd. This is part of following the example of the Savior. Through his grace, we can have help in changing our thoughts and actions so that they become like his. Moroni tells us:
“Charity is the pure love of Christ. …
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ” (Moro. 7:47–48).
When hearts are filled with the pure love of Christ, Christlike deeds follow.
One young couple in the Wilshire Ward, Los Angeles California Stake, was struggling financially. They had no car. The husband, who worked two, and sometimes three, jobs while going to school to make a better life for his family, had been assaulted late one night waiting at a bus stop. The couple walked to church when they could find no other way to get there. Never complaining, they put their trust in the Lord.
“A couple in the ward had a very good used car and were planning to purchase a new one,” recalls Bishop Antonio Vargas. “They gave their car to this young couple and paid for the title transfer and smog check as well.”
Such acts of kindness take place throughout the Church when members think, feel, and act as disciples of the Good Shepherd. Members of one ward in the eastern United States, for example, regularly transport a sister undergoing cancer therapy to a hospital three and one-half hours away in Boston. In a ward in Geneva, Switzerland, where six languages are spoken and in an Asian branch in California where five languages are spoken, members lovingly translate talks and lessons for each other. In another area, a family whose home is heated by a wood-burning stove didn’t have enough fuel to get them through the winter, so a group of ward members cut, split, and hauled the needed wood in sub-zero weather.
2. Support ward or branch efforts to help lift burdens. Quorums, Relief Societies, home and visiting teachers, and Young Men and Young Women organizations all have the responsibility to give service to others. But assignments to serve others can help us develop caring relationships that go beyond feelings of obligation and duty: we will begin to look for ways to help people outside of our assigned areas of responsibility. Our service becomes more spontaneous, more based on a joyful desire, even a need, to serve others. We realize that there is power in us to “bring to pass much righteousness” and good as we engage in causes such as helping others (see D&C 58:27–28).
When he served as a bishop of the Vila Sonia Ward, São Paulo Brazil Stake, Luiz Carlos Yamaguchi was concerned about helping ward members in difficult financial situations. In response, he pulled together a committee of specialists that included a lawyer, a carpenter, and other skilled professionals. The first person they felt they could help was a member who needed good housing for his family and was struggling with major medical expenses incurred by his son.
The committee’s first step was to find a piece of land the brother could afford and then negotiate its purchase on terms that allowed him to pay in installments. He sacrificed to save for building materials, and the construction of his house was made a ward project. Priesthood quorums worked on Saturdays and Relief Society sisters prepared food for the workers.
After the family moved into their new home, the committee began helping other ward members in similar circumstances. One man whose home was built by ward members acquired during that project the skill of house painting. As a result, he got a new job, thus increasing his income and improving his family’s opportunities for growth and development.
“The spirit of unity developed in this ward, and members who participated developed a greater spirit of fellowshipping,” says Demar Staniscia, regional representative for the São Paulo Brazil South Region. “They also acquired the habit of helping others on an individual basis.”
Ward organizations often help in less tangible ways as well. Heidi Davis, who has learning disabilities and uses a wheelchair, is able to participate in job training through the help of a large group of sisters in her ward, the Willow Creek Ninth Ward, in the Sandy Utah Willow Creek Stake. Knowing her need, Bev Lund, a member of Heidi’s ward, approached the Relief Society presidency to suggest sending a sister every day to help Heidi work at the bishops’ storehouse. Forty sisters share the responsibility; for two school years now, one has gone each day to assist Heidi while she works at a computer.
“Heidi’s feelings of worth have grown, and she’s a great example to other learning-limited youth,” says LaNila Kimball, education counselor in the Relief Society presidency. “She recently bore her testimony in church for the first time.”
Priesthood brethren of the Pahoa Ward, Hilo Hawaii Stake, meet every Wednesday after work to help members in need. For major projects, these nineteen- to seventy-year-old brethren willingly give up their Saturdays as well. Home teachers let Bishop Antone Enriquez and his counselors know who needs help, and the service is coordinated through the high priests group leader and elders quorum president. Roofs have been repaired and painted, brush cleared, trees chopped down, rubbish hauled away, pineapples planted, and porches rebuilt. “It has brought ward members closer together,” says Sister Enriquez. “We feel like a big happy family.”
3. Give service as a family. Families make wonderful ward shepherds. A number of families in the Marshallton Second Ward, Philadelphia Pennsylvania Stake, became great shepherds some years ago when the family of Jack and Cathy Moyer was hit by tragedy. Their twelve-year-old daughter Karen was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and her condition deteriorated quickly. She became blind, lost her ability to walk, and could no longer attend school.
“We needed a lot of assistance,” says Brother Moyer, now bishop of the ward. “Ward members would come and read to her every day so my wife could get a little rest. One sister would sing Primary songs, which Karen loved. They taught her home study seminary.”
As Christmas approached, Karen was expected to die any day and the family was “horribly depressed,” recalls Bishop Moyer. Then a group of families in the ward took on the project of helping the Moyers celebrate the twelve days of Christmas; each day one of the families brought thoughtfully selected gifts to comfort and cheer them. “The twelfth day culminated with a big red fire engine, sirens going, driving up to our house with Santa at the wheel. It lifted our spirits tremendously, and we felt a true outpouring of love and support.”
That outpouring of love would be felt again when the Moyers’ younger daughter, Janet, was diagnosed with the same kind of brain tumor that had taken the life of her older sister. Janet lost her sight too but learned braille, continued in school, and participated in band and Church road shows before she died.
“Ward members were very compassionate and caring throughout Janet’s illness,” Bishop Moyer says. “The young women in our ward often say what an influence our daughter’s courage had in their lives.”
Latter-day Saint families frequently reach out to others even while they are in need of help themselves. After Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai, Hawaii, for example, many families whose homes were damaged immediately went to work helping other members—and members of other churches as well.
“I’ve taught my children to look at what people need and not to look away,” says Erna Kamibayashi of the Kalaheo Ward, Kauai Hawaii Stake. Despite losing their home to the hurricane, family members fixed roofs and picked up debris for others, and the sons carried buckets of water for weeks to areas without water.
4. Watch out for the lost sheep. Even with the great spirit of love and service that exists in wards and branches of the Church, there are sometimes members whose needs are overlooked. They may feel that these needs should be obvious to others, or they may be reluctant to speak of their needs yet secretly hope that help will come. When others—even home teachers and visiting teachers, who are assigned to be responsive—do not perceive or discern such needs, the needy ones may truly feel like lost sheep. This is particularly so when they are less active.
Fortunately, this can be overcome when members are attuned to looking out for those whose burdens need lifting. This attitude of concern and a ready disposition to help are a good gauge of the depth of our discipleship. Can we be content as individuals and as ward or branch families if we are negligent in looking after those in need? Can we enjoy the full blessings of taking part in our quorums, classes, meetings, and activities while we know of others who, for whatever reason, are excluded from them? (See James 4:17.) President Howard W. Hunter said: “Each of us should read and reread the parable of the lost sheep found in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. … The Lord, our Good Shepherd, expects us to be his undershepherds and recover those who are struggling or are lost. … As you become involved and seek inspiration, success will result from efforts in your areas, regions, stakes, and wards” (Ensign, Sept. 1986, pp. 6, 9).
The good works of visiting teachers and home teachers, of priesthood and Relief Society leaders, and of others can be amplified when we as individual members grow in love and caring for each other and treat those around us as true brothers and sisters. When a ward pulls together, the results can be powerful and rewarding both temporally and spiritually.
The Los Angeles riots of 1992 hit the city’s Korean population hard, including members of the Los Angeles Second (Korean) Branch. One brother’s jewelry store in south central Los Angeles was burned. He lost everything in the fire and looting except his safe, which contained jewelry and cash. The safe was so heavy that vandals had not carried it away. It was all that he had left, and he needed to recover it.
Members of the elders quorum, mobilized to help others the day after the riots, learned that no trucking company would send a truck into the area to remove the safe. So twelve of the elders, asking both the Lord’s help and police protection, brought it out themselves, despite physical difficulties and possible danger.
“The brother we helped was less active but now attends every meeting,” says President James Pak, noting that branch members also worked together to overcome many other problems from the riots.
Entire ward and branch families are blessed by such acts of genuine concern and compassion.
“Serving others helps to build Zion,” says Bishop Lewis Hassel of the Bangor First Ward, Bangor Maine Stake. “I see more love between members. They seem to be more pure in heart and of one mind. The spirituality in our meetings increases when ward members are actively serving each other.
“Often people see needs and serve anonymously,” he says. “I’ve been approached many times by members who have asked me to forward donations of goods, services, and funds to specific families and individuals in need. Much of the service done in our ward is this quiet kind.”
When the love of members is put into action this way, the blessings of their service reach far beyond the receivers. As one of the brethren who was involved in helping others after Hurricane Iniki said: “These were good times. The Spirit was with us as we went about our Heavenly Father’s work. Nothing could replace the peace, calm, and warmth that we felt as we did it in the name of Jesus Christ and gave all glory to him.”