Using your time, attention, and energy, you can become a one-person humanitarian organization.
Art by Brian T. Kershisnik (BFA ’88)
At Brigham Young University many years ago, there was a great athletic coach named Eugene L. Roberts (AB 1916). He grew up in Provo and, as a youth, drifted aimlessly with the wrong kind of friends. And then something remarkable happened. Of this experience he wrote:
Several years ago . . . , I was standing one evening upon the street waiting for my gang to show up when I noticed that [the Provo] tabernacle was lighted up and that a large crowd of people were traveling in [that] direction. I had nothing to do so I . . . drifted in. I thought I might find some of my gang, or at least some of the girls that I was interested in. Upon entering, I ran across three or four of [my] fellows and we placed ourselves under the gallery where there was a crowd of young ladies, who seemed to promise [some] entertainment.
We were not interested in what came from the pulpit. We knew that the people on [the] rostrum were all old fogies. They didn’t know anything about life and they certainly couldn’t tell us anything, for we knew it all. So we settled down to have a good time. Right in the midst of our disturbance there thundered from [the] pulpit the following [statement]:
“You can’t tell the character of an individual by the way he does his daily work. Watch him when his work is over. See where he goes. Note the companions he seeks, and the things he does when he may do as he pleases. Then you can tell his true character.”
I looked up towards the rostrum because I was struck with this powerful statement. I saw up there a little dark-haired, fierce-eyed, fighting man whom I knew and feared; but didn’t have any particular love for. . . .
. . . He went on to make a comparison. He said:
“Let us take the eagle, for example. This bird works as hard and as efficiently as any other animal in doing its daily work . . . ; but when its daily work is over and the eagle has time of its own to do just as it pleases, note how it spends its recreational moments. It flies to the highest realms of heaven, spreads its wings, and bathes in the upper air, for it loves the pure, clean atmosphere, and the lofty heights.
“On the other hand, let us consider the hog. This animal grunts and grubs and provides for its young just as well as the eagle; but, when its working hours are over and it has [some] recreational moments, observe where it goes and what it does. The hog will seek out the muddiest hole in the pasture and will roll and soak itself in filth, for this is the thing it loves. People are either hogs or eagles in their leisure time.”
Now . . . when I heard this short speech, I was dumbfounded. . . . What was my surprise to find everyone of the gang with his attention fixed upon the speaker. . . .
. . . I thought of that speech all the way home. I classified myself immediately as of the hog family. . . . That night there was implanted in me the faint beginnings of an ambition to lift myself out of the hog group and to rise to that of the eagle. . . .
There was implanted that same evening also the faint beginnings of an ambition to help fill up the mud holes in the social pasture so that those people with hog tendencies would find it difficult to wallow in recreational filth. And as a result of constant thinking about that speech I have been stirred to devote my whole life and my profession towards developing wholesome recreational activities for the young people, so that it would be natural and easy for them to indulge in the eagle type of leisure.
The man who made that speech which has affected my life more than any other one speech I ever heard was President George H. Brimhall. God bless him.¹
George Brimhall, the president of BYU 100 years ago, was revered and admired for his ability to move people—the way he moved Eugene. He may have never realized that his talk in the Provo Tabernacle that day touched somebody, but it completely changed Eugene’s life.
I have thought a lot about the following questions: What do I do in my leisure time? And am I going to be a hog or an eagle?
You might be like me and ask, “What leisure time?” You are busy with church callings, work, families, friends, and many obligations. But after a recent experience, I realized that as busy as I think I am, the Lord puts opportunities right in my path, and all I have to do is take advantage of them.
The experience was after President Thomas S. Monson’s funeral. The Monson family asked the Relief Society to deliver the dozens of floral arrangements that had been sent for the funeral to care centers and hospitals around the valley. I took one to a care center that was right by President and Sister Monson’s family home. When the woman behind the desk understood what I was delivering, she burst into a smile, because President Monson was very well known and loved at that care center. He had spent many hours of his leisure time visiting with people there.
I believe that the Lord often isn’t asking us for big, time-consuming gestures; He merely wants minutes of our time every day to help another person on their way.
In the Service of Your Brothers and Sisters
King Benjamin taught a profound and compelling truth that, millennia later, still motivates us. In fact, there is a food pantry in Las Vegas that is run by members of another faith who resonated so much with this one verse of scripture that they put it up in vinyl letters on a wall in the food bank: “And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
King Benjamin had some grandsons who were even more off track than Eugene Roberts, “seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord” (Mosiah 27:10). But following a miraculous conversion for Ammon and the other sons of Mosiah, the seed of their grandfather’s words started to grow in their hearts. The brothers, who had wallowed like hogs in their youth, wanted to soar like eagles. They felt inspired to go up to the land of the Lamanites, to preach the gospel to people described as “hardened” and “ferocious,” who “delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them” (Alma 17:14).
Why would Ammon and his brothers want to waste their precious time doing something that might possibly result in their death? They could have been settling down and taking their seats in the government; they could have become great leaders in the community.
Mosiah 28:3–4 tells us the reason:
They could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.
And thus did the Spirit of the Lord work upon them, for they were the very vilest of sinners. And the Lord saw fit in his infinite mercy to spare them.
So they went into the land of the Lamanites. You know the story:
As Ammon entered the land of Ishmael, the Lamanites took him and bound him, as was their custom to bind all the Nephites who fell into their hands [Ammon was not the first one], and carry them before the king; and thus it was left to the pleasure of the king to slay them, or to retain them in captivity, or to cast them into prison, or to cast them out of his land. . . .
And thus Ammon was carried before the king who was over the land of Ishmael. . . .
And the king inquired of Ammon [this is almost sarcastic] if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.
And [then] Ammon [surprised him and] said unto him: Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die. . . .
. . . [And] I will be thy servant. [Alma 17:20–23, 25]
Wouldn’t Ammon’s grandfather have loved to hear that from his grandson? “I will be thy servant.”
Ammon was assigned to be a shepherd. I don’t know what the next three days were like, but I suspect the Lamanite shepherds weren’t thrilled that a Nephite was out with them doing their work.
But three days later, after whatever else had been going on, there came a problem when the flocks got scattered by some wild men. Ammon “saw the afflictions of those whom he termed to be his brethren” (Alma 17:30; emphasis added); he looked upon them as his brothers. When the men scattered the sheep, the servants were afraid that they would be killed, and Ammon’s heart swelled inside of him. He saw that this was his chance to be a servant to his brethren.
Isn’t that remarkable? He didn’t think of them as Lamanites or enemies or adversaries; they were his brethren.
This attitude of being a servant to his brethren opened another opportunity for Ammon to converse with the Lamanite king. One reformed sinner taught another sinner, and the Lamanite king’s heart was pricked. He asked in his heart how he could be reconciled to God and have his sins and murders taken away through the merits of Jesus Christ. Ammon and King Lamoni grew to understand one another, and they became friends. In the end, they were willing to die for one another.
I absolutely love the courage of these young princes—these sons of Mosiah—to be servants and examples of the peace that is offered through the Lord Jesus Christ, no matter how vile our sins have been, if we repent and serve Him.
How do we serve Him? The answer is in the wisdom of a grandfather: “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”
And I love the courage of King Lamoni and his father and his brother Anti-Nephi-Lehi, how they gave up the mud so they could soar. Lamoni’s father gave us this beautiful passage in the scriptures: “O God, . . . I will give away all my sins to know thee” (Alma 22:18).
No More Strangers Among Us
Let me give a more modern example of a way to reach out to people whom we might not traditionally think about. In the April 2016 general conference, Sister Linda K. Burton, who was the general Relief Society president, quoted a scripture that is revered by Christians, Muslims, and Jews:
And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.
But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. [Lev. 19:33–34]
Sister Burton asked us each to think about the strangers among us. Is there anyone who doesn’t participate in society for some reason? Somebody who is on the periphery? Somebody who—because of language, background, disability, religion, family status, life choices, or anything else—is not fully participating within the circle? And can we think of these people as brothers and sisters? Can we serve them?
I have been in awe of how many examples have been shared relating to Sister Burton’s great call to action. I want to share one with you. It took place in South Salt Lake at Lincoln Elementary, which has students from 15 different countries.
On the first day of school, the Hamed brothers, who recently had arrived from Syria, entered their new school—scared to death. The brothers had experienced bombs, hunger, the death of loved ones, and uncertainty. And now, on the first day of school, they didn’t know if they were going to fit in or if they were going to have any friends. And their parents were even more scared than they were.
They were greeted by Principal Milton Collins. He is this larger-than-life personality, and he does this crazy Lincoln Elementary bobcat growl. He made sure the Hamed brothers each had a backpack, and he told them, “Oh, by the way, high fives are mandatory. Whenever you see me in the hall, you must give me a high five.” And if students feel bullied, he told them, they are to go straight to an adult. Milton Collins’s job is to be the principal, but in his treatment of his students, he goes beyond his job to become an unforgettable force for good.²
The big humanitarian crises occurring right now, like those in the past when people have been driven out of their homes and lands, are, at the heart, failures to remember that we are brothers and sisters and that God is the Father of us all. When we respond in a humanitarian way, we can send bushels of food, we can dig wells, we can build latrines, we can put up schools and health-care centers, and we can settle people into apartments. But if we don’t do something about people feeling like strangers instead of like our brothers and sisters, then the whole thing is in vain and will just feed the cycle of emotional and spiritual misery.
Ammon, Sister Burton, and Milton Collins are all using as a foundation what King Benjamin taught: that to serve others is to serve God—or, as Jesus Himself said, “As I have loved you, . . . love one another” (John 13:34).
You Are the Gift
There are many organizations and people who do enormous good in the world with their limited resources and their Benjamin-like desires to serve their fellow beings and to serve God. I am privileged to work with many of them and see what is being done in the world.
I want to tell you what I have seen that accomplishes the most lasting good. If you want to be involved in humanitarian service, this is the way—and I hope this is what you will remember. You are the gift. You yourself are the gift. It is not the clothing, the hygiene kits, the school desks, or the wells. It is you.
What would it look like if each of us were our own well-stocked humanitarian organization? Instead of just giving out tangible goods in foreign locations, what if we had the richness of dispensing healing, friendship, respect, peaceful dialogue, sincere interest, protective listening to children, birthday remembrances, and conversations with strangers? What if that was what your humanitarian organization did? This kind of humanitarian work can be done by anybody, and it can be done at any time. You don’t need warehouses or fundraising or transportation. You can be perfectly responsive to any need that comes to you, wherever you are.
Let me share words from Elder Robert D. Hales about this kind of humanitarian organization. He was talking about the interactions between parents and children, but think of this instead as a handbook of how you might extend humanitarian offerings to the broader human family.
To truly understand [young peoples’] hearts, we must do more than just be in the same room or attend the same family and Church activities. We must plan and take advantage of teaching moments that make a deep and lasting impression upon their minds and hearts. . . .
. . . Mothers and fathers, as you drive or walk children to school or their various activities, do you use the time to talk with them about their hopes and dreams and fears and joys? Do you take the time to have them take the earplugs from their MP3 players and all the other devices so that they can hear you and feel of your love? . . .
For our interactions with youth to truly touch their hearts, we have to pay attention to them just as we would pay attention to a trusted adult colleague or close friend. Most important is asking them questions, letting them talk, and then being willing to listen—yes, listen and listen some more—even hearken with spiritual ears! Several years ago I was reading the newspaper when one of my young grandsons snuggled up to me. As I read, I was delighted to hear his sweet voice chattering on in the background. Imagine my surprise when, a few moments later, he pushed himself between me and the paper. Taking my face in his hands and pressing his nose up to mine, he asked, “Grandpa! Are you in there?”
. . . Being there means understanding the hearts of our youth and connecting with them. And connecting with them means not just conversing with them but doing things with them too.³
I think about the examples that prophets have given us. As with that care center, President Monson would go on a regular basis and sit down and visit with people who didn’t have anybody. I happened to be in the room where President Russell M. Nelson’s family was waiting during the press conference when the new First Presidency was announced. He has 57 grandchildren and 116 great-grandchildren. One of his granddaughters told me, “He knows everybody’s name and everybody’s birthday. He is the one who keeps track more than anybody else.”
Those are the examples of our prophets. They aren’t giant, enormous examples, but they are meaningful. I think about the Savior, who saved all of mankind; His gospel message had to go to all the world. And what did He do? He walked 100 or so miles from Dan to Beersheba and back again ministering to people one-on-one. Now how was that going to get the gospel out to the whole world? But that is what He did.
We can change our perspective so that caring for the poor and the needy is less about giving stuff away and more about filling the hunger for human contact, providing meaningful conversation, and creating rich and positive relationships. Every single person can do this. You don’t need a fund, but it is going to take some commitment. Some people will not respond positively, and others will put out toxic energy, which just means they are not yet ready for your relationship. There are always humanitarian places that we can’t yet reach. But there are plenty that we can reach.
We live in a world that is being pulled apart. The unity of community and respect for other people’s beliefs, tolerance of differences, and protection of the minority voice are being shredded. It is extremely destructive to all of us when everyone outside of our narrow clan becomes an enemy we vilify. As those forces in our society rise up, then so must an answering strong sentiment and skill set on the opposite side.
If I had the power, I would name each one of you a humanitarian ambassador of peace and friendship from the Church of God to the kingdom of God. This isn’t about who is good or bad, and it is not about who is rich or poor. The sons of Mosiah and the Lamanite people of King Lamoni showed us that we all fail, we all make a mess of things occasionally, we all struggle with different sins, and we are all down in the mire. But through the grace of Jesus Christ, we can repent and we can keep trying to be better—to be more like Him. And by trying to be like Him, we can make alliances with other people who are also trying for good in ways that may be very different from ours, who are striving to do the right things for the right reasons, and who are recovering from their mistakes the same as we do: through the virtues of God as they appeal to Him for help.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord speaks directly to His ambassadors, like you, whom He sends. This isn’t a feel-good scripture that pats us on the back; it is a bold and vibrant call to action for people like us who set their hearts on safety and equal chances for all people—or, in other words, Zion.
For this cause I have sent you. . . .
. . . that a feast of fat things might be prepared for the poor; yea, a feast of fat things, of wine on the lees well refined, that the earth may know that the mouths of the prophets shall not fail;
Yea, a supper of the house of the Lord, well prepared, unto which all nations shall be invited.
First, the rich and the learned, the wise and the noble;
And after that cometh the day of my power; then shall the poor, the lame, and the blind, and the deaf, come in unto the marriage of the Lamb, and partake of the supper of the Lord, prepared for the great day to come. [D&C 58:6–11]
Do you want to live your life as a hog or as an eagle?
The Lord has said, “For this cause I have sent you.” If you feel like you are stuck in a hole and you can’t flap your wings like an eagle because of all the mud that is on them, then take heart. Take the sons of Mosiah to heart. Take Lamoni and his people as your example.
The Lord wants to use you. There is a work for you to do, and it is specific to you and your abilities. Nobody will be the ambassador that you will be. But you need to be clean to do it. Jesus can lift you out of the mire and set you on your way. Repent, and He will forgive. And remember that, in the same way as the Savior, you yourself are one of the best gifts that you can give to people in need.
Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and director of LDS Charities, delivered the forum address from which this article is adapted on Jan. 23, 2018. The full text is available on the BYU Speeches website.
- Eugene L. Roberts, “The Eagle and the Pig,” Young Woman’s Journal 32, no. 7 (July 1921): pp. 386–87.
- See Allison Pond, “Special Report: How Utah Became One Refugee Family’s Final Chance at Survival,” InDepth, Deseret News, Dec. 18, 2017.
- Robert D. Hales, “Our Duty to God: The Mission of Parents and Leaders to the Rising Generation,” Ensign, May 2010.