I have had several young people say to me, “I want to do something meaningful this summer; I want to participate in some cause. I want to help the needy if I can. Oh, I have other things I want to do, but I want to do that as well.”
We live in a day and age when more people are interested in helping their fellowmen. Many young people are involved in this kind of service, and this is to your credit. Let me read a few verses from the Doctrine and Covenants about helping the needy.
Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved! (D&C 56:16.)
So, the Lord has a few words for the person who is in a position to help and does not help. Then he goes further and makes a statement that I think is interesting. He says:
Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands! (D&C 56:17).
He has a word not only for those who can help, but he also has a word for those who should be the recipients of aid. Then he goes on to say:
But blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God. … (D&C 56:18)
We must agree that we cannot do all things for all people; and since we cannot help everyone who really needs it, perhaps the best place to start is with those projects and people where our contribution can make the greatest difference. Some militants that we hear so much about fall in the category of the men whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and who are not satisfied with what they receive. I am sure that these people need help as well as everyone else. If, however, we have to start someplace, and we want our contribution to be meaningful, maybe the best place to start is with those people who are of such a mind and attitude that the contribution will not only be received but there will also be evidence of its helpfulness and usefulness.
I would like to suggest some guidelines whereby members of the Church might effectively participate in and contribute to helping other people. I believe that we should ask ourselves four basic questions to guide us.
Number one is, Am I helping or am I part of the problem? Sometimes the people who are the most eager to help turn out to be the people with the problems. As individuals in this society and this church, we must look to ourselves and say, “Do I have any serious problems that I must work out first? Is there any serious repentance that I must take care of before I go out and try to help someone else? What must I do for myself so that when I come to these people I can come as an example and not suffer from problems that would prevent my giving the most dedicated and effective service that I can?”
The Savior made this same point when he said: “Physician, heal thyself.” (Luke 4:23.) In another place he said: “And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” (Matt. 15:14) So, the first question is, In what condition am I?
Question number two should be, Is my family in need of help? Should I be helping others if my own family is in need of some sort of help? Could my contribution be in their direction? Sometimes this becomes difficult because the closer we are to people, the harder it is to help them. But certainly if our family and loved ones are in need of assistance or help, we should do what we can for them before we go out and try to help others.
Third, I believe that we have to ask the question, Does someone need help in my ward or branch? I honestly believe that the Lord and society expect us to take care of our own members before we go out into the world. Can you imagine what this world would be like if we started with the premise that every church should take care of its own members—honestly aid and assist them to meet their problems, get back on their feet, and help them where necessary? We would go a long way toward the solution of some of the most critical problems that we face. As Latter-day Saints we should first look to the needs of members of our own church before we go out into the world.
In line with this I would suggest that this summer you either personally or through your quorum or class leader contact your bishop or branch president. Find out if there is anything that you can do, either individually or as a group. Somebody in your own ward, in your own branch, may be in need. Find out if there is some project that you can become involved in.
We can turn to worthy projects in our neighborhood, community, city, or even at the national and international level. We do the best work, however, when we start with ourselves and progress outward, that is, to make sure that we are free from serious problems; second, to help with our families in case there are problems at that level; and third, to aid the members of our own church. Then let’s move from that point into the programs and activities that will allow us to make the best kind of contribution to our community and the world.
I have made observations about some programs that I have been involved in during the past few years. It appears that most successful programs for helping people have three or four important characteristics. We could look for these when we are searching for a program in which to become involved. The first characteristic is that the program, for the most part, involves or is run by volunteer help. There is something pure about a person’s coming to help someone else because he really wants to do it and not because someone has paid him.
One of the great problems facing poverty programs in the ghettos is that the needy say, “Why don’t you let our own people administer the program?” So, the programs put these people on the payroll, and these people—with their new-found affluence—immediately move to the suburbs and become as unacceptable to the ghetto people as the original staff. When somebody is paid to help someone else, there is always that nagging, lingering doubt as to how sincere his participation is. There is something wholesome, there is something real, there is something acceptable about a volunteer effort if it is well organized and well directed, an effort with a minimum of paid personnel.
The second major characteristic is that most successful projects deal with education, training, or learning. There are many projects and activities today that deal with symptoms, not causes. The best projects are those that help train, retrain, or educate people. Thus, these people can compete, and—with the help of their own dignity and self-esteem—they can work themselves out of their problems. Perhaps they cannot do this alone, but at least they are lifted to a level where they can be more effective and responsible. These educational, training, and learning projects are the kinds that deal with the problems and not just the symptoms. They are involved in building and not in tearing down.
Another vital characteristic is the kind of attention many projects are given. Some of the most effective work that is done in this country is done in a very quiet, unpretentious way by people who are not too concerned about whether or not they get attention for what they do. There is nothing belligerent or rebellious about their work. I think of the advice of the Savior when he said:
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Fatherwhich seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. (Matt 6:3–4.)
There is something admirable about an unpretentious volunteer effort to help somebody in a cause that may not receive any publicity but, nonetheless, is effective and right.
Not too many years ago while I was living in New York City, I was employed by the Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund. I was impressed by this organization because a handful of paid employees organized a program that collects nearly a million dollars every year and uses it to send needy children from New York City to volunteer families in surrounding states. The fund is one of the oldest philanthropic endeavors in the United States. It was organized back before the turn of the century when children were literally starving to death. They needed to be fed, and they needed health care. Now that those needs are being met in other ways, the fund has turned to yet another very useful and effective endeavor. The children now come out every summer for what they call “friendly town vacations.” They go to volunteer families. The money that is collected is expended to help screen the children, make sure that their health is all right, and then provide their transportation. All the rest is volunteer.
Most of the children who go into these homes do not have a father; some of them do not have a mother. And in this society the best way a youth can know how to be a good father or a good mother, or a good husband or a good wife, is by what he has seen in his own home. Most of the training, the practical training we get, is from the experience we go through as we are growing up. We decide what we want to do, and perhaps what we do not want to do, on the basis of what we have seen in our homes. How can a young man know his role and responsibility as a father if there has never been a father image in his life to show him? Thus, the fund will place a child with a family where he can just be there to see what a father does and what a mother does and to see how young people and children react in the family situation.
The program has been eminently successful because the young people return home realizing that the words father, mother, and family can really mean something. The experience extends their horizons. They tend to stay in school longer because they can see that there is something more for them if they will prepare themselves. It helps to influence their lives. One of the Fresh Air Fund graduates was Charles Wilson, the former chairman of the board of General Motors, who came out of the slums of New York, Danny Kaye is also a product of the Fresh Air Fund Program—and there have been many other great and important people.
Another very successful program is the Church’s Lamanite Program, where young people can go into LDS homes and receive the blessings and education that will enable them to make the contribution that they desire to make in life, not only to themselves but to their people. And I may add that the Lamanites are not alone in gaining from this educational process. The children of the host families gain a greater understanding for the Lamanite way of life and approach to things. In other words, the Lamanite child can, in many cases, contribute as much to the family as the family can contribute to the child. This, like the Fresh Air Fund, is a beautiful project and contains the successful characteristics that I previously mentioned.
Now, if you sincerely want to help, then I want to enlist you in a program this summer. It is a volunteer program wherein you can make a contribution that will be real and far-reaching. For instance, the volunteers who participated in this program last year alone changed the lives of more than 39,000 people in the United States and Canada. If you go worldwide, the volunteers changed the lives of more than 83,000 people. I do not know of a single program or combination of programs that has reached so many people, turned them in a direction that is both beneficial and good, brought more happiness and stronger family ties, and provided greater blessings and peace of mind. The program is not just temporary; it does not end after these volunteers leave. What it gives is permanent. Now that has to be some kind of program, and it is!
Maybe you have guessed by now. I am talking about the missionary program. More than 39,000 souls in the United States and Canada were converted last year. You show me a single program that begins to even approximate that. What I would like you to do is to go home now and become part of that volunteer force. Find a family this summer, will you? Take them the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are a lot of returned missionaries who read the New Era, and they know what I am talking about. You will never have such an experience in your life. You will never have such an experience of giving, of meaningful activity, and of seeing actual and literal change of a positive nature come into the life of an individual.
This can be the best possible way for a person to make a contribution. You may ask, “How do I go about it?” Well, contact your bishop or your branch president and ask him to put you in touch with the ward mission leader or the branch mission leader. This individual will suggest to you how to get started.
This will not take your whole summer or all of your time. But if you are successful as part of this great army of volunteers, you will have made a contribution this summer that will far exceed anything that you could have possibly done otherwise. I am not saying do not participate in other projects. I am just pointing you to a program that really, honestly, sincerely makes a difference. As to what extent that difference is, let me quote to you a letter. It was written a few months ago by a person who had a friend who thought enough of him to do exactly what we have been talking about. That is, the writer is a convert to the Church. He had a friend who brought him the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A few years ago, after this person became a member of the Church and received the priesthood, he took a girl to the temple. He was married for time and eternity. A few months ago a terrible tragedy struck. His wife died suddenly. There was no warning. This is the letter that he wrote while in the depths of his sorrow. He has given me permission to share this with you.
I am so miserable and lonely. I loved her so much, and the separation is so painful. I know the gospel is true. I know she is alive and working on her new assignment, but I do not find as much comfort as I thought I would.
I see good in all this. I see that my character can be strengthened. I see that my testimony has increased. I am grateful that I am a Latter-day Saint. I am appreciative that I have a knowledge of the truth and that I hold the priesthood.
If I did not have my testimony or my temple marriage, life would be so cumbersome. But the gospel is true, God lives, and Jesus the Christ, his Son, lives. Because he lives, she lives; and I will live. Because of my priesthood and the sealing powers of that priesthood, we will be reunited. That I know with a certainty tested in the flames of sorrow. But I miss the girl, my sweetheart. We were one, and half of me is beyond the veil.
If you could go this summer and present to someone the faith and knowledge and testimony to carry him through trials such as this, you will have made one of the greatest contributions that any human being can make to another. Will you accept this challenge and go now and make your summer meaningful?