Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Casting Your Bread Upon the Water

In contrast to the admonish to not "cast pearls before swine," we are commanded to cast our bread upon the water (Eccl. 11:1-6) and to share our wealth with others. How to do this properly is a challenging issue, especially when one is faced with the overwhelming needs of some of the poor in our midst. In spite of the generous fast offerings which many Latter-day Saints give (thank you!) and the generous offerings that so many of our Christian brothers and sisters make through their churches and other charitable organizations, I suspect that we as a people still are far too selfish - myself certainly included. Today I would like to urge all of us to think outside the box and look for ways to do more to help the needy of the world.

What box am I referring to? One "box" that may limit some of our thinking and our charity is the idea that fast offerings and Church welfare is sufficient. Make no mistake, the revealed principle of the fast is a true and authentic concept restored through Joseph Smith, including the ancient concept that linked personal fasting with giving to the needy (see the discussion of the restored and ancient concepts of the fast on my Mormon Answers page on LDS practices. When I was bishop, I was so grateful for that inspired program and for the way it could the needy, with zero overhead and with personal attention to individuals in a way meant to strengthen and uplift them. What a fabulous program, and how grateful I am to those who fasted and gave generously. But I also frequently saw needs that could not be met using fast offerings for a variety of reasons. How grateful I was to the members who went the extra mile to help others directly without limiting their generosity to fast offerings alone. For example, one fine man simply gave me a chunk of cash and said that he knew that I might know how to use that money in ways that fall outside normal Church welfare routes to help some needy Hmong children in our ward have a better Christmas. Several people joined that effort in various ways, and it was a fabulous experience.

Another "box" that might limit many of us is the common idea that the best way to help beggars is to let existing programs like fast offerings and social programs help them. It is often said that giving to them directly will not help them because they will just use it to buy drugs or alcohol, or that in foreign countries, to give to the many beggars one encounters would be impossible due to their numbers and the risk of being mobbed once they know you are generous. I recognize that many beggars on the streets of US cities might be addicts and that giving them money directly might not help them, but there may be other ways (food, for example). But in Mexico, a place of particular interest to me, I can't imagine that the poor Indian women with young children who hold out their hands for money are addicts looking for a quick fix. The needs are great, the hands are many, but I think it may be possible for those who travel through that country and other countries to do much more to help, with little real risk and much opportunity for good.

My thoughts on this matter were inspired by a passage in Jacob 2 that struck me particularly hard last Monday night, when I was with my family in Oaxaca, Mexico, holding a brief home evening under the stars on the roof of our hotel among the wonderful and friendly people of that great city. Jacob in Jacob 2:17-21 offers words that I find truly powerful and inspiring on this matter. I'll say more about this later.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting subject that I have spent much time thinking about.

When I joined the church I lost my home to my sister who will not speak to me now. I have a struggling business and the place I rented was infested with Toxic mold which made me extremely sick. I have now been sick for over a year, my finances are a disaster, I have been living on popcorn and cheese sandwiches. The one ward I was in helped me because that bishop actually witnessed one of the occasions where I collapsed and couldn't breathe. When I was finally able to move out of the mold house the only thing available to me was a house that was beyond my means and in another ward (the original ward I was in when I joined the church).

I took it anyway because I knew with the rainy season coming I could quite possibly choke to death as I almost had several times before.

The thing that has struck me is how many of my sisters and brothers and the bishop know of my dire circumstances and yet not one single person has offered to help. The bishop says he can only help if there is hope of my situation improving. But he knows that out of the offending house my health has continued to suffer and I am not well at all. I am not in a position to help myself much at all.

It amazes me that people who claim to care so much about me and who know what's happening and who are quite wealthy don't seem to think even for a moment that maybe they should help me.

Through prayer I know that my source is my Heavenly Father and I cannot look to humans nor covet what they have. I am sustained by my Father in Heaven. And this has been a struggle because it is hard to believe people love you when they don't seem to care enough to help. I have heard everything from 'maybe I need to learn something' to 'I have to have the faith to get out of it on my own'. I can't help but wonder how the story of the Good Samaritan would be written if one of these people had happened by. Maybe they would have said those things to the man who was robbed and beaten. How sad.

Personally I have always felt some people are found in such circumstances not only to test their faith, but to test the knowledge and works of those who claim to know the gospel and supposedly have the love of Christ abiding in them. When they see the need do they share of their abundance or find an excuse not to?

I can't help but wonder in light of what James and Mosiah and the D&C say how my Heavenly Father must feel when he sees a people so unwilling to help someone in such dire need. It's very sad to me, not just because I continue to suffer so temporaly, but also because I can see the eternal blessings my sisters and brothers are foregoing by the witholding of their substance.

The good news is that my faith is strong and my testimony of the gospel continues to grow and spiritually I feel I am well. And I stand in hope and faith that after the trials will come the blessings.

Anonymous said...

The young indigenous woman holding her hand out might not be an addict, but the chances are good that the young or maybe not so young man sending her and her kids out to beg probably is. It is a common occurrence for alcoholic or drug addicted men to send their women and children out to 'earn' for to support their habits; this is something I've seen throughout the hemisphere from Oaxaca to southern Chile.

I'm not saying you shouldn't give them something, that is a decision that needs to be made in each individual case.

Mormanity said...

It pains me to learn of wealthy people not reaching out to help the needy in their midst. Of course, it may be possible that they just don't understand the situation, and that that they are being very generous in helping others. But I strongly suspect that the Lord is unhappy with the selfishness of many of his people. I think the words of the prophets call us to do more, not less, in giving and sharing.

Thanks for the reality check on the specter of drug addiction behind begging in foreign countries. How terribly sad.

The enormous amount of fraud, deception, and abuse from those seeking welfare assistance in the world makes it all that much harder for local Church leaders and members to respond to the legitimate needs that exist. It's a daunting task. When I was a first counselor in a bishopric in the old Tucker Ward of Atlanta, Georgia, I dreaded the days when the Bishop was out of town and I was in charge, because I would have to deal with welfare emergencies from transients and feared being easily conned. There were people working multiple wards trying to get money. There were frauds with convincing stories. It was really difficult. Helping members you know well is also very challenging, as I've learned in several callings, including my tenure as bishop. If I spend $500 to bail someone out for rent when they might not really need it, that's $500 not available to help many dozens of destitute people in other parts of the world. One can get a little jaded also when one sees people demanding assistance when they have a home entertainment center twice as nice as anything I would ever dare to buy, along with a premium cable TV subscription and other luxuries. But then there are people who can be helped so much through the welfare program - and it's amazing to see what can be done.

On the topic of out of the box thinking to help the needy, one such concept is the perpetual education fund that the Church has set up. What an amazing opportunity to help those in other countries obtain career opportunities. I am deeply touched by the inspired actions of President Hinckley in creating this marvelous program.

Anonymous said...

I am divided on this topic. I see many people in our ward who are in real need, yet never really willing to ask for help. Instead they plod along doing what they can, inching through life day by day, never sure from where their next meal might come. Yet I am aware of other situations where people with stable, active family members refuse to help a sibling or parent in need. I can only image the turmoil this puts our bishop through. How does he help someone when their own family won't even lift a finger to come to the aid of one of their own less fortunate?