I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

“I know that fast offerings help the poor and that the Church has donated funds from special fasts to help with famine in certain areas of the world. What other ways can I respond to poverty and starvation in the world?”

LaVonne VanOrden, administrative assistant, Thrasher Research Fund—a Church-affiliated philanthropic organization sponsoring pediatric health research, particularly in developing nations. In verses 27 and 30 of Alma 1, Mormon tells how Church members in a previous dispensation took care of the needy: [Alma 1:27, 30]

“They did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted. …

“And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; … whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.”

In our own day, the Church is also helping to relieve poverty and suffering. In 1985, in response to the First Presidency’s call to Church members in the United States and Canada to join in two special fasts to aid famine victims in Africa, millions of dollars were contributed. These funds have been used not only for emergency relief, but also to support carefully selected projects in Africa and other areas of the world in order to help people learn to help themselves, consistent with Church welfare services principles. The Church has also contributed funds and commodities to community food banks and soup kitchens to help local agencies provide for the homeless and the hungry. (See Ensign, Aug. 1988, pp. 10–15.)

In addition to supporting the special fasts that make these efforts possible, Church members can do other things to help the needy:

  1. 1.

    Practice welfare principles to make sure that we and our families are temporally and spiritually secure. We can and should live providently, store a year’s supply of food and fuel where possible, and educate and prepare ourselves and our children for productive careers.

  2. 2.

    Observe the law of the fast and pay a generous fast offering. The Lord wants us to look after those in our midst who are not able to care for themselves. But, he has added, “it must needs be done in mine own way.” (D&C 104:16.) The primary way the Lord has provided for members is through fast offerings. Of these donations, President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“We wish to remind all the Saints of the blessings that come from observing the regular fast and contributing as generous a fast offering as we can, and as we are in a position to give. Wherever we can, we should give many times the value of the meals from which we abstained.

“This principle of promise, when lived in the spirit thereof, blesses both the giver and the receiver.” (Ensign, May 1978, p. 80.)

President Marion G. Romney reminded us that “you cannot give yourself poor in this work; you can only give yourself rich.” (Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 93.) We need to remember that as we give!

3. Support the missionary cause. The gospel can help solve all the world’s problems. In December 1974, when President Spencer W. Kimball was in Mexico City, several reporters asked him why the Church didn’t do something to help the needy obtain food, clothing, and a chance for education. President Kimball pointed out that when people accept the gospel, they often gain a new desire to learn to feed, clothe, and educate themselves. With an awareness of their own potential as children of God, they become eager to better themselves and their situation—temporally as well as spiritually. “Give these people to us, and we’ll open their eyes to the vision of eternity and show them how to reach up to the stars,” he said. (Mary Ellen Edmunds, “International Health and the Church,” Journal of Collegium Aesculapium, Dec. 1983, pp. 10–11.)

A personal experience of mine illustrates this principle. One cold, dreary Sunday morning in a South American city, some Church members and I made our way toward the LDS chapel. Evidences of poverty were all around us. We could see the sadness in the faces of the barefoot children and the despair in their parents’ eyes. As we stepped through the gate into the little yard that surrounded the chapel, we felt as if we were stepping into an oasis in the desert.

The people greeted us with bright, warm smiles. At church, it was announced that classes in bread-baking and sewing would be held during the coming week. The lady missionaries offered to teach piano lessons to those who wanted to learn to play. A request was made for flower seeds so that flowers could be planted around the chapel in preparation for stake conference, which would be held there in a few months. The sacrament was prepared and passed.

There, for the first time, I realized that the gospel is the answer to the problems of all the peoples of the earth.

As Latter-day Saints, our major responsibility to the world is to extend to them spiritual salvation through the atonement of Jesus Christ. But at the same time, through missionary work—full- and part-time—we can lift people temporally and help them learn to solve their pressing needs for the basic necessities of life.

There are many ways we can participate in missionary work. We can:

—help our children and other family members and friends to prepare to serve full-time missions, and support them financially when necessary;

—serve or make plans to serve a mission ourselves if we are in a position to do so;

—contribute generously to missionary funds;

—follow the prophet’s call to “flood the earth with the Book of Mormon” by contributing to the missionary effort copies of the Book of Mormon containing our testimonies.

4. Be active in worthy humanitarian projects in our own communities. Donate time as well as money. President Kimball said, “When money is needed, we give money. But often what is needed more is love and time and caring, which money cannot buy.” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 6.)

5. Think about those who need our help. We should let thoughts of them “intrude” into our sometimes-too-comfortable lives. Acknowledging that it is our responsibility to help bear one another’s burdens (see Mosiah 18:8–10) is another way to begin helping others.

6. Pray for the needy. “No sincere prayer that asks ‘How can I help?’ will go unanswered,” says Val D. MacMurray, who has worked with many needy people in developing countries. “If we incorporated into our daily prayers a petition for the well-being of those who are suffering for want of food or good health, I believe we would be astonished at the opportunities that would present themselves on a level we could handle and in ways we could understand.” (Unpublished paper presented at a human rights symposium, Brigham Young University, June 1987, p. 42.)

In responding to the needs of those around us, we would do well to remember these words, in 1 John 3:17–18:

“Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”