Mormon prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often referenced by other faiths as the “Mormon Church“), announced an extension to its 3-decade mission statement which has included preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, perfecting and strengthening the members, and redeeming the dead through temple service. The statement, which is incorporated into the Church’s Handbook of Instructions will now include a fourth longstanding Church emphasis: caring for the poor and the needy. Serving has always been an integral part of each of these aspects of the Church mission, but will be enumerated to stand on its own accord as a pillar on which the gospel and membership activity rests (See Deseret News, LDS to boost emphasis on helping needy; Salt Lake Temple not closing.)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (oft inadvertently called the “Mormon Church”) is and has always been a serving organization, with members covenanted through baptism to strive continually to follow the example of the Lord who always went about “doing good.” Central to the Mormon faith and LDS religion is the tenet that “caring for the widow and the fatherless” and quietly hearing the silent pleas of those in desperate plights or needy circumstances around us, is paramount to a lived religion and consistently Christian life.
As American religion historian Jan Shipps noted, “it’s not that Mormons haven’t already been caring for the poor and needy with its humanitarian program…” However, rather than “moving it up to be one of our priorities,” it may be even more accurate to say that it simply affirms to others what has been embedded and held as integral in Mormons’ devotion to Christ, service to Him and understanding of the implications of His atonement for all.
LDS Reach Out to Poor and Needy in the World
Merry-go-Round in Ghana
In addition to Church-initiated projects, individual members are creative in their efforts to meet world needs and reach out to the poor and the needy. The motto of Brigham Young University, a Church-sponsored school, is to “enter to learn and go forth to serve.” Taken literally, thousands of students have been involved in global improvements. The photo above depicts an electricity-generating merry-go-round, created by BYU technology students and professor Charles Harrell in tandem with teachers in Essam village, Ghana. Harrell, BYU Professor from the Ira Fulton School of Technology remarks:
These villages and schools don’t have electricity. As children push the merry-go-round, it [generates] electricity that [lights] the school rooms.
The first project was completed in 2008. Markham, a retired engineer supporting the project who served in Ghana as a Mormon missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints observed:
In the rural villages the kids almost have no toys. I seldom saw the kids playing with anything other than a car tire or something else that could be used as a wheel.
In terms of the global humanitarian outreach of the Church, it is overwhelming in its scope and generosity. One of hundreds of Church initiatives worldwide includes providing wheelchairs for those 100 million people who may not have access to one or cannot afford to purchase one. “For them, going to school or getting a job may be impossible dreams.”
To help, the Church partners with community organizations serving the disabled. The local partner assesses clients, prescribes a device, and follows up with therapy and support. The Church donates wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, cushions, and other assistive devices – sometimes purchased from local workshops. When requested, teams of therapists give additional technical training to the partner.
Since 2001, the Church has distributed more than 300,000 wheelchairs in 101 countries. In 2008, the Church distributed more than 50,000 wheelchairs in 46 countries, from Armenia to Vietnam, Cambodia to Jamaica, Sri Lanka to Krgyzstan, Mexico to Malaysia. (Reaching Out to Poor and Needy: LDS Humanitarian Website)
From providing access to clean water in over 4500 communities worldwide, to shipping dolls to children in Afghanistan as part of an inter-faith cooperative effort to reach out to the poor and needy, to young single adults packing hygiene kits and women sewing quilts for the cold, there is always some outreach of some kind going on in the homes, lives, neighborhoods, wards (meetinghouses), stakes (meetinghouses covering extended geographical area), areas, and directed by the Church at large.
In Close~As Mormon Mission Statement Is Expanded
This inspired addition to the Mormons’ three-fold mission–mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints– to include caring for the poor and the needy stands to remind us all of our connectivity, our Christian commitments, and our need to listen for the spiritual cues of those among us, whose wounds may not be visible, whose hearts or minds or homes need binding up, and whose hands may need some lifting. A timely change at this Christmas season, 2009, that I shall always remember.