The Message:

“Unto the Least of These”

by Elder Marion D. Hanks

of the First Quorum of the Seventy

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    Our family loves the songs and sights and sounds of Christmas, the fragrances and feelings, the symbols, the traditions. We especially love the spirit of Christmas, centering in our Savior Jesus Christ, his mission and his gift to us, his hopes and his expectations for us.

    The young people at our home have grown up reading the Christmas story of the star, the manger, the mother and baby, the shepherds, the kings, and the angels. Equally important has always been the wonderful declaration by Jesus of our responsibility to care for the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. But last Christmas brought a new dimension to our understanding of all of this. The following letter and my letter of response will explain.

    December 16, 1981

    Elder Marion D. Hanks

    7 Castle Road, Central, Hong Kong

    Dear Elder Hanks:

    In an effort to make our Christmas more meaningful, we decided as a family to economize and use the savings to feed the hungry children in Cambodia and in other Southeast Asian countries.

    To earn Christmas money the children addressed envelopes for my work, sold stationery, and worked around the yard and house. The kids earned a penny a page for reading. They put into the Christmas account the money they were going to spend on presents for each other, and they gave up a trip and goodies. We bought a small Christmas tree to set on top of the table rather than a full-sized tree, and we donated the difference.

    The enclosed check represents, on behalf of our family, the money that we would have spent on Christmas but did not. We know you will put it to good use.

    We are grateful for our many blessings, and we are very sorry that there are so many suffering so much. Please let us know what else we might do.

    We hope you have an enjoyable Christmas season.


    The Dale S. Call Family

    January 3, 1982

    Dear children and parents:

    My first letter of the new year must be to you.

    Sister Hanks and I spent the Christmas season in four different missions and two refugee camps. It was a glorious experience—my best Christmas since I spent a month in Vietnam between Thanksgiving and Christmas 14 years ago. I’m afraid it was not fair to my wife, who returned to Hong Kong with a severe case of influenza, but she is better now, and we have the rest of our lives to remember those wonderful missionaries and their leaders, and the choice, humble people we met along the way.

    I’m sure you are acquainted in your family with the sobering story the Savior told in Matthew chapter 25 about the time when he will return in his glory and gather all nations before him. He will set certain ones on his right and others on his left. He will bless in his kingdom those who have unselfishly helped the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, or imprisoned. Many of them will probably be humble people who at first will not fully understand what he means when he thanks them for helping him, and to them he will say: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:4).

    Both in and out of the refugee camps in the great areas of Southeast Asia and the Philippines there are many people who are hungry. Water is often unavailable without carrying it long distances, and it is never pure. (In the refugee camps, the refugees get a little water out of tanks or a big trough; I’ve seen them trying to bathe in a little dirty water inching through the mud in a foul stream.) Multitudes are without adequate clothing. Often their only home is six feet of space on a platform in a barn or lean-to, with other families on each side. They are not very healthy. Many thousands are behind wire fences or walls.

    In one of the countries where there are members of the Church, I talked with a wonderful bishop who told me that on Sunday he and his wife must decide whether the family will have a second bowl of rice for that day or go to church. They ride to church in jeepneys, little open-air taxis made out of jeeps. The transportation for the family costs so much that they do not have enough money to buy food. The bishop is a school teacher with two college degrees. He teaches six days a week and is paid less than 85 American dollars a month. He and his wife and family of seven children and his mother live in a tiny room without running water or toilet. Yet they are all clean and neat. Two children are in high school. All are faithful members of the Church; they love the Lord.

    I have told you this to let my feelings for you and your Christmas gift be understood, at least in part. Your letter was my best Christmas present. I confess that my biggest problem now is where to use the money, and how. I must think and pray and wait for inspiration and the right opportunity. There are so many, and one cannot give just a few pesos or rupiahs or bahts or pennies. But I promise you that I’ll try to carry out the spirit of your sweet family’s unselfish purpose and project as I share your generosity. I will let you know where the money goes.

    I think one of the best things I can do is tell of your Christlike example as I talk to the people of the Church and the world. I hope you will feel good about this. I will not do it just to give you credit, but to help others understand how Heavenly Father wants us to share with others. I hope this was your happiest Christmas, and I think you will remember it that way.

    You children are very lucky to belong to the family you do—blessed is a better word. God bless you.

    I love you,

    Marion D. Hanks

    Photo by Jed Clark

    Illustration by Michael Rogan