This is an awesome responsibility, my dear brethren, and with fear and trembling I stand before you, praying that I may be blessed with a portion of that Spirit which has inspired those who have preceded me.
I want you to know that it is a great testimony to have had the opportunity during the past year of working under the direction of the General Authorities of our church. From a distance I have sustained these men as prophets, seers, and revelators through faith. During the past year it has been my privilege to meet with them in counsel, to feel of their spirit, their wisdom, and their love for you and members of the Church everywhere. I have observed their discernment and judgment and their ability to go to our Heavenly Father for answers to perplexing and difficult questions. I bear you my testimony that with every fiber of my body I know that as these men are called of God, and as the mantle of authority falls upon them as they are ordained and set apart, they are in very deed prophets, seers, and revelators, receiving communication from God the Eternal Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.
My appointment as commissioner of Health Services gives me responsibility for the fourteen hospitals that are owned or operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In addition, I have been asked to be concerned and to feel a responsibility toward the health needs of a worldwide Church membership. President Lee has asked me to address myself tonight to the needs of our brothers and sisters who live distant from the United States.
May I share with you, just for a moment, several experiences that have come to me. I can’t say that these experiences have all been pleasant or that they have been associated with joy. At times they were associated with sadness and almost overwhelming despair. How wonderful it is to realize that only this church, the church restored in the latter days, has a solution to some of the overwhelming problems that are faced by our brothers and sisters, the children of our Heavenly Father, many of whom live distant from here.
How often we take for granted those things that we enjoy and participate in almost every day—the hospitals, the physicians, the dentists, the nurses, and other professional people who render services.
Read with me a letter that came from the Philippine Islands, from a dear sister who pleaded, “Can our family share with you who live in the United States the blessings of good health, the Primary Children’s Hospital, and other facilities where you go to keep your children healthy and strong?” She told how it was necessary to go great distances to find doctors and a hospital.
Go with me to talk with a branch president in an Indian village in Guatemala. Hear him as he explains how four of his nine children died before they reached the age of five because of improper nutrition and poor sanitation, which resulted in dysentery, pneumonia, and other illnesses.
Walk with me into the home of an Indian family living on the high plains of Bolivia. The husband serves as the branch Sunday School superintendent and his wife is the Primary president. See their six-week-old infant daughter dying of starvation because their meager income of eight dollars a month makes them unable to provide food for their baby when the mother becomes sick and is unable to nurse.
Travel with me to a large government hospital, newly built in Tonga and equipped to provide needed services to members and nonmembers alike. But there are insufficient nurses with which to staff the hospital and only limited services can be provided.
We could multiply these examples by the hundreds and see the suffering, the sorrow, the tragedy of life in areas near and far. These problems are not brought on because sin and transgression are more common there than here. These people are not handicapped by lack of intelligence, ability, or industry, but by extreme poverty, lack of education, and insufficient opportunity. How they reach out to us and ask, “Can you help us to enjoy the blessings that you in North America take for granted?”
Brethren, how do we solve these problems that exist in these faraway places where the Church is growing more rapidly than in other parts of the earth—in South and Central America, the islands of the Pacific, and areas of Asia, where baptisms are not measured in the tens or the hundreds, but in the thousands? These people come into the Church and need our help. They need our assistance with health and with every phase of life. What wonderful people they are! You can’t help but love them as you meet and talk with them. You want to do something, to reach out and lift them up and share with them the blessings that we have in such great abundance.
Time does not permit me to go into detail on the program that is being developed under the inspiration of the First Presidency. The Church has now begun to send forth specially trained men and women with the calling of the missionary to reach out and lift up our brothers and sisters. A physician has gone to Samoa and a nurse to Tonga. Nurses have been called who will soon be leaving for Guatemala, and other professionally trained missionaries will go forth to other nations to assist those with great needs.
What will these health missionaries do? A guiding principle, in the tradition of the Word of Wisdom, will place emphasis on health education and disease prevention. These health missionaries will work with priesthood leaders. A priesthood-correlated program, utilizing the home teachers, the Relief Society, and the visiting teachers, will bring into the homes of these families temporal blessings that will help them progress spiritually. They will assist families by teaching better nutrition, by teaching how to take care of babies and children so they won’t perish from diarrhea and respiratory infection. They will teach proper care of the expectant mother, home sanitation, and many other things that are easy to understand, if there is just a teacher.
I emphasize that problems are not only health related. What if we were to assist that branch president and his wife in the small Indian branch in Guatemala so that four of those nine children had not died?
Even though we may have the ability to prevent their deaths from illness, this family could not have fed the nine children on their income of twelve dollars a month, which was derived from their small cornfield and blanket making. Unless there can be a concomitant economic growth through better agricultural methods—use of fertilizers, irrigation, improved seeds, and plants—unless there is a balanced program, we are not going to be fully effective in meeting the needs of these choice and wonderful people who join us in bearing testimony that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that we have a living prophet upon the earth today.
Oh, brethren, I challenge you to prepare for missionary calls, not only to go out and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ at home and abroad, but to go forth in love and brotherhood, using your professional and vocational skills to reach out and lift up. Physicians, dentists, and nurses, social workers, agricultural specialists, people with knowledge in marketing and home industry—all of your skills and talents are required if we are going to be a blessing to those whose needs are so great.
I pray that we might have the vision of this great program, that we might prepare ourselves, that many might receive such a calling and go forth to provide a great service. This is my prayer as I bear testimony to the divinity of this great latter-day work in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.