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.