The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church) and the American Red Cross have a similar mission: to help others in need. Both depend on an army of unpaid volunteers to get the work done. And sometimes their efforts overlap, as both organizations are often among the first to respond in times of natural disaster. So it’s no surprise that the two have partnered together for more than 25 years.
Leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ and the Red Cross have been working to improve and coordinate their efforts on the community level so they are more prepared when disasters strike. Two years ago, the Church and the Red Cross signed a “memorandum of understanding” designed to improve their joint efforts in disaster planning, including training, drills, and identifying and using shelter locations.
This year, the organizations are taking their partnership to the next level—The Church of Jesus Christ has a goal of providing 200 volunteers to the charitable organization by the end of 2014, according to Kristy Denlein, volunteer services director for the Red Cross’ Utah region. The initiative began in Utah earlier this year, but both groups see potential to expand outside of the state. Denlein said:
The Red Cross and the LDS Church have a strong partnership nationwide, so I think it’s something here, modeling that good relationship with a community partner like the LDS Church, that could definitely be modeled throughout the country.
Prophets and apostles of Jesus Christ encourage members to be prepared for all types of emergencies—including natural disasters, job loss and long-term power outages, just to name a few. The Red Cross also teaches emergency preparedness so their volunteers are ready to help in times of need.
This joint effort will provide “breadth in our services and some depth in our responses through disaster preparedness and response,” according to Lynne Killian, who is one of the Red Cross volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ’s initiative. Denlein said, “It’s a great opportunity for the Red Cross. We’re enjoying working with our partners and we’re just excited to see … where it takes us through the year.”
The Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ
The mission of The Church of Jesus Christ is to rescue souls—sometimes physically as well as spiritually. Latter-day Saints are disciples of Jesus Christ, who taught that the greatest commandment was to love God and our neighbor. Sometimes that means sharing what we know about the gospel and the Savior, and sometimes that requires us to step up and help others in their time of need. The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of my favorites, and illustrates this point well. A Jewish man was walking on a road when two men attacked him, robbed and beat him and left him for dead. Two religious men walked past him and didn’t help. But the third, a Samaritan, stopped and helped the man. This is how disciples of Jesus Christ honor Him. Elder Russell M. Nelson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ), said:
This is the call of Christ to every Christian today: “Feed my lambs. … Feed my sheep”—share my gospel with young and old, lifting, blessing, comforting, encouraging, and building them, especially those who think and believe differently than we do. We feed His lambs in our homes by how we live the gospel: keeping the commandments, praying, studying the scriptures, and emulating His love. … And we feed His sheep throughout the world by being good Christian neighbors, practicing the pure religion of visiting and serving the widows, the fatherless, the poor, and all who are in need.
… Like the good Samaritan, the Savior was continually reaching out to rescue, love, and nurture people around Him, regardless of their culture, creed, or circumstances.
Missionary service isn’t always young men in suits and ties knocking on doors—but it is always being an example of Jesus Christ, ready to serve.
Called to Serve in the Red Cross
Service is an integral part of The Church of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is part of the covenant (or two-way promise between a person and God, and the terms are set by God) that members make when they are baptized into the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ functions in large measure because of the unpaid volunteer ministry of its members, or its lay clergy. From the Sunday School teacher to the bishop (leader) of the ward (local congregation), all are unpaid volunteers.
But members do not campaign for their assignments. Rather, they are “called,” or invited, to serve in these positions by their local Church leaders, who pray and ask God whom they should call. Most members willingly accept assignments. What does this have to do with the Red Cross? The Church of Jesus Christ will fill their Red Cross volunteer positions through callings, church service and missionary assignments. Although many associate Latter-day Saint missionaries with young men in shirts and ties, some members are called to serve part-time or full-time in humanitarian assistance or other service missions.
Lynne Killian and her husband, Val, were among those called to serve a 24-month humanitarian service mission for The Church of Jesus Christ with the Red Cross. Lynne helps to oversee assistant programs, delivering Christmas cards to veterans and keeping the Red Cross office in order. Her husband, Val, works to ensure that emergency response programs, shelters and kits are all in place. Both are also taking multiple emergency preparedness classes.
The point, said Val, is this: “If you’re not trained and if you’re not proficient and if you haven’t an interest, then all you are is just one that needs help, rather than one that can give help.” And being of service to your neighbor is what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. Val said:
We’re all members of the community. No matter what religion or race or creed we are. It behooves each one of us to help each other, to help our neighbor, to know what it means to be neighborly.
As disciples of Christ, we seek to emulate Him by serving those around us.
Helping Hands in Times of Need
In The Church of Jesus Christ, members believe in helping others. Latter-day Saint Helping Hands volunteers are hard to miss with their trademark yellow vests. But this is just one line of defense, so to speak, as we seek to take care of those around us. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained:
… Using funds donated by generous members, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sends food, clothing, and other essentials to relieve the suffering of adults and children all over the world. These humanitarian donations, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade, are made without any consideration of religion, race, or nationality.
Our massive relief effort following the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami provided $13 million in cash and relief supplies. In addition, more than 31,000 Church-sponsored volunteers gave more than 600,000 hours of service.
Our humanitarian assistance to the victims of Hurricane Sandy in the eastern United States included large donations of various resources, plus almost 300,000 hours of service in cleanup efforts by about 28,000 Church members. Among many other examples last year, we provided 300,000 pounds (136,000 kg) of clothing and shoes for the refugees in the African nation of Chad. During the last quarter century we have assisted nearly 30 million people in 179 countries.
Rather than boasting, Elder Oaks’ remarks illustrate how one person’s contribution can really make a difference. Elder M. Russell Ballard said:
Honeybees are driven to pollinate, gather nectar, and condense the nectar into honey. It is their magnificent obsession imprinted into their genetic makeup by our Creator. It is estimated that to produce just one pound (0.45 kg) of honey, the average hive of 20,000 to 60,000 bees must collectively visit millions of flowers and travel the equivalent of two times around the world. Over its short lifetime of just a few weeks to four months, a single honeybee’s contribution of honey to its hive is a mere one-twelfth of one teaspoon.
Though seemingly insignificant when compared to the total, each bee’s one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey is vital to the life of the hive. The bees depend on each other. Work that would be overwhelming for a few bees to do becomes lighter because all of the bees faithfully do their part.
The same is true as disciples of Jesus Christ seek to do His work, serving others around the world. Each person’s contribution adds to the whole. And while each donation of time, money, energy or other resources may seem insignificant, when compiled together it adds up to a great work that blesses the lives of many people.
I have seen countless visual examples of this throughout the years, but I’d like to recount one experience. A member of our ward was struggling to get his hay bales from the field to his ranch, and the rain (and snow) was coming—which would ruin his hay. So another ward member organized an old-fashioned hay bucking party (without telling the owner of the hay). A small army of volunteers of all ages showed up at the hay field and loaded the bales onto trucks.
Then, to the owner’s surprise, at least a half-dozen trucks and trailers loaded with hay pulled up at his ranch and began unloading. This job was too much for one person to accomplish in such a short time. But with many hands, we were able to finish the job in one night. It was cold and wet, but there were no complaints—especially when several ladies brought out hot chocolate and cookies for everyone. And the tearful gratitude of the rancher and his family was a powerful reminder that God hears our prayers, and He often answers them through other people.
Ready to Help after Disaster in Austin, Texas
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ are also taught to be prepared. Because, in truth, when the storms come the time to prepare has passed. Latter-day Saints in Austin, Texas, saw a need for more preparation last fall as they were helping to clean up after massive flooding. The work of the American Red Cross of Central Texas was slowed because too few people were trained to conduct damage assessments—which is essential before those affected can receive aid. Kevin Christensen, vice chair of Central Texas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, said:
After the flood, we realized the need for more people to be trained to provide disaster assessments. The quicker an assessment is completed, the faster help can be provided to those in need.
More than 50 members of The Church of Jesus Christ teamed up with the Red Cross to receive disaster assessment training. Bill Dorman, disaster services volunteer chair for the American Red Cross of Central Texas, said that these newly trained volunteers can be deployed in a future disaster. He said:
There are three phases in the disaster cycle: preparedness, response, and recovery. LDS members can now work as part of a damage assessment team during disaster response. Providing accurate and timely disaster assessment is essential for good planning and to verify families’ disaster-caused needs.
Kent Huntsman, president of the Round Rock Texas East Stake (a stake is a geographic region consisting of a group of wards), said:
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we seek to follow the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ, in our service to mankind. We are pleased to partner with the Red Cross as we prepare to assist those in need during times of disaster.
Their preparation will greatly bless the lives of others in an area that has seen flooding, tornadoes and flooding in recent years.
Emergency Preparedness Begins at Home
The scriptures teach us to be ready in all things— financially, spiritually and economically. Ezekiel 38:7 states: “Be thou prepared, and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them.” Indeed, you can’t be a guard or a help to others if you haven’t taken care of your own house, so to speak. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ are counseled to gather a year’s supply of food and have money in reserve, among other things. Elder Boyd K. Packer, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told the story of a woman who was striving to follow this counsel. He said:
Someone ridiculed her determination to gather her year’s supply. She had stored enough for herself and her husband, with some to spare for her young married children who were without the means or the space to provide much for themselves. She told him she did it because the prophets had counseled us to do it. He chided her, “In the crunch you won’t have it anyway. What if your leaders call everything in? You’d have to share it with those who didn’t prepare. What will you think then?”
“If that should happen,” she said, “at least I will have something to bring.”
I love this story because I have seen it played out from both sides on many different occasions. When we moved to Idaho about seven years ago, we hit some financial stumbling blocks, as did many others in our area. One husband and wife shared some of their food storage with us in our time of need—and were able to do so because they had it. At another time, we were able to share some food storage with another family because we had it. When we are prepared spiritually and otherwise, we need not fear. And we will be in a position to be a helping hand to others in need. That is what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about.
I am a wife and mother of 4 beautiful children in a small town in the mountains of Idaho. We ski as a family in the winter and camp, fish, and go to the beach in the summer. I’m a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I am grateful for the Savior and the blessings of the gospel in my life.