Q. There is so much human suffering in the world today. Why doesn’t the Church launch campaigns to end world hunger and ease the sufferings of the needy?
, Welfare Services area director, Southeastern United States.
It is encouraging to sense the concern for the unfortunate that this question reflects. I’m sure many readers share that concern.
In addressing your question, I want you to understand that the greatest tool for easing suffering is the gospel itself. Conversion to the gospel so speeds the recovery and progress of those who live its precepts that miracles—temporal as well as spiritual—are wrought in the lives of people. It was this truth that led President Spencer W. Kimball to remark in 1974:
“I remember as I went through the streets of Calcutta, [India], seeing the great numbers of starving people. … I remember being on the fifth floor of a big hotel in Calcutta and looking down on the back street where these people in their meager clothing were lying on the sidewalks … with no place to go and nothing to eat and no shelter. … I saw the rain come, and I saw these people move back a little farther under a little shelter. I saw the people in Peru suffer, and we were upbraided by one of the press one day for not taking care of all these poor people. ‘Why did we travel the world and do all these things and did not take care of these people,’ he asked. I said, ‘That is something you don’t understand. If these people would accept the gospel of Christ, the program is provided and they could be taken care of, and their sufferings could be alleviated. They could enjoy reasonable conditions in their homes and in their living.’
“And that is true, brethren and sisters. In my feeling, the gospel is the answer to all the problems of the world, if we go deeply enough and all are united in solving them. And that is why we work harder in missionary work, so that we can gradually bring the gospel to all the people, … the gospel of serving the poor, taking care of those less fortunate than ourselves.” (Transcript of Welfare Services Meeting, 5 Oct. 1974, pp. 18–19.)
In the 1930s President Harold B. Lee, then a stake president, was assigned by the First Presidency to suggest a program that could address the problems you have raised. Of that experience, he said:
“I sought the Lord, … and there was something that came to me. My first thought was, ‘What kind of an organization will we have to have, to do this?’ And I began to think of setting up something that was like the world has set it up, and I received one of the most fundamental testimonies of the value of the priesthood of this Church. It was as though the Lord had said to me, ‘… You don’t need any other organization. I have given you the greatest organization there is on the face of the earth. Nothing is greater than the priesthood organization. All in the world you need to do is put the priesthood to work. That’s all.’” (Transcript of Welfare Agricultural Meeting, 3 Oct. 1970, p. 20.)
With this in mind, it is good to know that the Church and its members are also involved in direct efforts to prevent and alleviate suffering. Though the Church works harmoniously with community and private agencies in this work, our labors are carried out through the established priesthood organization of the Church.
Where the Church is well established, a broad range of Welfare Services resources is administered by the priesthood. Many who are destitute, as well as thousands who simply face temporary difficulties, are assisted each year through bishops’ storehouses, Deseret Industries, employment centers, and LDS Social Services agencies. Resources and help adapted to the circumstances and needs of anyone within reach of the Church are available to all who are willing to live by the principles under which that help is given.
In the expanding areas of the Church, bishops and branch presidents have access to fast offering funds and the concerted efforts of local members to help in reducing want and suffering. In addition, over 2,500 sisters and older individuals and couples have served as full-time missionaries with Welfare Services assignments over the past twelve years. There are over 600 presently serving such missions in some 26 countries throughout the world.
In nearly all of these areas, members and missionaries are directly involved in campaigns such as those you suggest. These missionaries have developed health and nutrition education curricula for school systems; helped upgrade medical care; mounted countrywide media campaigns against disease and poor nutrition; presented clinics, workshops, seminars, lessons, and “health fairs” reaching millions of people; instigated the planting of thousands of home gardens; taught home storage and wise nutrition; and strengthened the ability of priesthood and Relief Society leaders and members to prevent and respond to suffering.
The Church has also provided emergency relief when disasters have occurred. Examples in recent years include relief efforts following floods in California and Idaho, hurricanes in the southeastern United States, and earthquakes in Nicaragua, Peru, Guatemala, and Argentina. You may be interested to know that in addition to providing food, temporary shelter, clothing, bedding, and tools in Guatemala, the Church designed and helped families build over four hundred new earthquake-proof homes. Homes were also built in Argentina for many who had lost theirs.
These and other things are being done by members privately and by the Church to alleviate and prevent hunger and suffering around the world, but few of these significant acts are publicized. I am aware of the establishment of medical libraries in Samoa and Tonga; the creation of a neonatal clinic in a hospital in Chile; the development of a major foundation to support research benefitting the health of children worldwide; a history of medical and educational service by volunteers in underdeveloped nations.
Certainly, members of the Church are proving true the confidence expressed by President Kimball: “I do not worry about members of the Church being unresponsive when they learn of the needy as much as I worry about our being unaware of such needs.” (Regional Representatives’ seminar, 29 Sept. 1978.)
Although the Church and many of its members are involved in the effort to reduce hunger and suffering, it is important that each of us remain concerned for those in need. More poignant than the death of those who suffer is the reaction of those who, when made aware of the efforts of others to help, turn back to their comfortable life because “someone else” is helping the poor.
We all have the opportunity and the obligation to participate in efforts to relieve suffering. To us, a prophet of God has said, “And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.” (Mosiah 4:16.)
The Church provides opportunity for and encourages all members to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (D&C 58:27.) “For of him unto whom much is given much is required.” (D&C 82:3.)
There is much we can do individually and as families to alleviate suffering in this world, both at home and abroad. We can be effective home teachers and visiting teachers. We can serve as missionaries and see that our children do so. We can render compassionate service. We can carry out Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women’s service projects. We can work on the welfare farm or at the bishops’ storehouse. We can donate to the Deseret Industries. We can open our homes to foster children. We can volunteer time with local charitable agencies, or help organize community programs to serve those in need, or donate to worthwhile programs.
Truly, “There are chances for work all around just now, Opportunities right in our way; Do not let them pass by, saying, ‘Sometime I’ll try,’ But go and do something today.” (Hymns, no. 58.)