White Bar
Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional

June 15, 2010 

  

 

 

"Caring for the Poor and Needy"

Tina T. Dyches

Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator, BYU

 

  

Tina T. Dyches photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


I’m honored to be with you here today and want to express my appreciation to those who make these weekly devotionals possible. It is an uplifting experience to gather weekly to hear words of inspiration and hope in a world so filled with degrading and demoralizing messages.

 

You truly are an amazing group of young men and women. Elder Henry B. Eyring said of you,

"They will be natural leaders who know how to teach and how to learn. They will have the power to innovate and improve without requiring more of what money can buy. [They]...will become legendary for their capacity to build the people around them and to add value wherever they serve." (2001)

 

You are being prepared to do a mighty work for the world and for the Lord. Your preparation is not solely academic; you are also being guided in the things of the Spirit. I am impressed with the emphasis you place on preparing for devotional by studying relevant scriptural passages in advance, bringing your scriptures with you, recording personal impressions on your “devotional notes page,” and dressing in a reverent manner. It is my prayer that through our joint preparation we can create an environment where the Spirit can teach and enlighten us.

 

Relative Wealth and Poverty

I would like to speak to you about a principle that is integral to the gospel and to the church: caring for the poor and needy. I realize that many of you feel like you are “poor college students” and are therefore needy. Many of you may be living below the poverty line, surviving on ramen noodles, sharing a bathroom with several roommates, and struggling to pay your tuition, books, and fees--not to mention trying to save enough money for a date.  However, this period in your life shall be for a small moment. You will graduate and become some of the most educated individuals in the United States and in the world. Upon graduating from BYU-Idaho with your bachelor’s degree, you will have more education than approximately 75% of all other American adults. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).

You will have substantially more education than the rest of the world. It is estimated that the average educational attainment worldwide is just under eight years. For you that would mean attending kindergarten through 7th grade. Because of your education, you will have greater earning power than most of the world. With your bachelor’s degree you are likely to earn more than twice as much as your friends and acquaintances who dropped out of high school. Those with advanced professional degrees are likely to have salaries that quadruple those of high school drop outs. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000)

 

Individuals and families living in extreme poverty have circumstances that are difficult for us to comprehend. It is estimated that 1.1 billion people live on less than $2 a day and that one child dies every five seconds due to hunger or hunger-related causes (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2004; World Bank Development Indicators, 2010).  Those who live in extreme poverty experience hunger, pervasive poor health, disabling conditions, illiteracy, denial of a basic education, loss of childhood, low skill levels, and early death. They are often vulnerable and powerless (Smith, 2008).

 

Relatively speaking, you poor college students are positioning to be some of the wealthiest individuals in the world.  The gap between you and those without education or opportunities for wealth is large. There was a similar economic situation in the year A.D. 29 with the Nephite people. 

"[They] began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches. Some were lifted up in pride and others were exceedingly humble...And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up." (3 Nephi 6:12-14)

 

How can great inequality in the land break up the church? Helaman tells us that the Nephites were broken up and defeated “because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek,” among other sins (Helaman 4: 12-13).

 

With the abundance of luxuries we enjoy in our modern society, it can be challenging to be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” and be “willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9). There are so many in the world who have burdens much heavier than ours: who mourn and are in need of comfort; who are poor not just economically, but educationally, emotionally, physically, socially, or spiritually.

 

Establishing Zion

This gap between the rich and powerful and the poor and vulnerable is depicted beautifully in the Manti temple. In this temple patrons go through stages of instruction in various rooms. In the first instruction room are wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling murals representing the creation, in the second room the Garden of Eden, and the third room the lone and dreary world. Murals of the world room in other temples portray barren earth, wild animals, and other symbols of the harshness of earth life. However, in the Manti temple, the world room depicts not the environmental effects of Adam’s fall, but the human effects of living in the world.

 

Over 4000 square feet, this room was painted in slightly over 28 days in 1947 by a little woman named Minerva Teichert, assisted by Frank Stevens. As you enter the room, a Native American man greets temple patrons with arms wide open, as he welcomes on his right a pilgrim with a Bible and on his left a fur trapper with a gun and pelts. A mountain scene behind this Native American has often intrigued my husband and me. Time after time we have studied this mural, wondering if it is representing the Salt Lake Valley or the Sanpete Valley. It looks like the Manti temple on a grassy knoll, but the body of water looks more like the Great Salt Lake. I hadn’t been able to figure it out until I read Doris Dant’s essay on Minerva Teichert’s Temple Murals found in a 1999 issue of BYU Studies.  About this valley Minerva said, “We have not had in mind any city exactly. It could be Salt Lake, Logan, Provo, Bear Lake, Manti, but it is the place where the little stone cut out of the mountain without hands should begin to roll forth until it should cover the whole earth. Stevens adds, “It represents the Zion people, not merely the place, but the spirit of the people who build the place...Zion has to be established not only spiritually but physically.” (Dant, 1999, p. 25).

 

When we think of Zion, we often think of a location or of a specific group of people who are pure in heart. However, if we read more closely in Moses 7:18, we find there are at least three factors that constitute Zion: First, the people are of one heart and one mind; second, they dwell in righteousness; and third, there are no poor among them.

 

The north wall of the Manti world room depicts this third factor, in terms of the lone and dreary world in which we live. Teichert wanted to show that the wealth of uncaring people is what truly makes the world lone and dreary. Our eyes are drawn immediately to the pageantry of nations--the rich and powerful from many lands parading in front of two large and spacious buildings. Yet in the shadows we see figures of the poor and needy, some of whom are begging for assistance. We see a young woman being sold into slavery for a jug of wine, a barefooted man who appears to be paralyzed beside a woman who is blind, a fatherless and homeless family with meager possessions, a mother with her son who has a physical disability, a lone soldier has who lost his leg in battle, a mother holding her son’s limp body, a woman holding her head in despair, a gaudily dressed yet lonely woman, and a family of immigrants.

 

The circumstances of the rich and mighty are contrasted with those of people who are experiencing significant difficulties in life. Yet only a king pays attention to the poor and needy. He tosses a few coins to a beggar without showing concern or compassion.

 

All of the figures in this mural are surely alone in this dreary world, except Christopher Columbus, who bids farewell to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella as he ventures toward a new world--a land where people will care more for others than for themselves, a land where the poor and needy will be cared for, a land prepared for the establishment of Zion.

 

From Self-Centered to Christ-Centered

Zion cannot be established without caring for the poor and needy. The scriptures are replete with examples and admonitions. In my studies on this topic, I have not found one scripture that admonishes us to neglect the poor. Likewise, I have also not found one scripture that admonishes us to think more about ourselves, to acquire as many possessions as possible, to covet multiple comforts in life, or to live a life of leisure. We are taught to lose our lives for His sake, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26)

 

Think about how difficult this really is–to lose our lives for His sake--to think of God and others before we think of ourselves. On any given day, we must think of ourselves hundreds if not thousands of times, from the time we awake until the time we go to sleep. We often dream of ourselves too, so both our days and nights may be consumed with thinking about our temporal needs--what we will to eat, how we will dress, where we will go, what we will study, who we will hang out with, and so forth. It’s difficult not to be self-centered when we’re with ourselves 24/7. Imagine waking up each morning and not thinking about ourselves first. What would it be like if instead we thought of someone who was in need of our assistance, then let those thoughts of charity guide us to serve others throughout the remainder of each day?

 

My favorite passage that relates to caring for those in need is found in Matthew 25. This chapter has three main themes that, if followed, will prepare us for the second coming of our Savior: We should be prepared, be wise with our monetary gifts, and care for others. If we do so, when the Son of man shall come in his glory we will be gathered at His right hand.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  

 

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger and ye took me in:

 

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

 

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

 

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

 

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?  

 

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt. 25:34-40)

 

Cycle of Caring

This scripture illustrates the difference between caring about others and caring for others. I believe we can care about others who are in unfavorable circumstances without being moved to action. We feel sorry for them. We may even pray for them to be comforted. However, when we care for others, we put forth effort. This effort, with love and compassion, can begin a cycle of caring that lifts those who are needy so they can be in a position to care for others.

 

My sister, Tami, is an example of one who is creating a cycle of caring. She doesn’t give up on those who are often rejected by others. She volunteers most of her waking hours helping inmates in county jails and in state and federal prisons. My sister is making a difference in the lives of many women and men who have been lifted out of their spiritual and emotional poverty and are now in positions to serve others. One inmate she helped rescue from a constant cycle of incarceration is Davida Martinez. My sister shares this story:

 

Davida didn’t have many positive examples in her life as a child. Neglected and repeatedly abused as a child,  Davida grew up in a family where drugs and addictions were promoted more than attending school. After 14 different arrests and time behind bars for drug- related crimes, Davida decided her children and grandchildren deserved a chance at living outside of our nation’s jails and prisons. Now, clean for more than two years, Davida is leading the charge to empower incarcerated women. She travels from Compton, California to Wasatch County, Utah where she volunteers her time with incarcerated women, teaching them the tools she has used to strengthen her new life and the emerging success of her three sons and four grandchildren. In the face of temptation on an hourly basis, Davida remains stalwart in her mission to free incarcerated mothers and return them--clean--to live with their children.

 

Davida still lives in the urban war zone.  Just a few weeks ago cops were called to her trailer park for another neighborhood incident of lawlessness. She holds steady, however, becoming more and more the ray of hope for the community. As a result of her stand for sobriety, the youngsters in the neighborhood are hopping the fence and attending community college rather than stealing DVD players. Her friends are coming over to her house to help write letters of encouragement to inmates, not to share their needles. The mail she receives is about hope and change rather than where the next drug deal will go down.

 

By all accounts, Davida Martinez has proven that change can and does happen.  She is a ray of hope for the 2.3 men, women and children locked up in America today.  With more than 80 percent of these individuals behind bars for illegal drug use and sales, Davida’s ongoing sobriety speaks to the heart of the inmates.

 

With 90 percent of all inmates returning to their communities at some point, Davida’s success stands as a beacon through the long, dark night. Davida is changing the system from the inside out. 

 

Because of Davida’s part in this cycle of caring, other inmates are gaining the knowledge, confidence, and skills necessary to live lives of service. Although incarcerated, these inmates are already giving to others. The women at the Wasatch County Jail recently held a fundraiser where they sold their handiwork to raise money for providing additional services for the inmates. They also help lift others by writing to inmates in other facilities, and they share their stories, poetry, and artwork to inspire others. The inmates’ ongoing commitment to serving others gives new meaning to the verse “When saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?” (Matt. 25:39).

 

All Can Give

Are any of us too poor, too uneducated, too destitute, too disabled, or too young to give? Did not the widow give more than the wealthy when she cast in the treasury her two mites?

“For they did cast in of their abundance, but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12:44).

 

Our 13-year-old son, Logan, and I recently had an experience that taught us about giving “two mites.” Usually Logan gets the same fast offering route, which encompasses a 4-block radius and takes about 20 minutes to cover (in a car). However, one Sunday he was given a different assignment. It is probably the most difficult route in the ward because it covers several miles along the highway with country-road addresses that are hard to find. Some of the fast offering envelopes didn’t even have a house number, just a cryptic note such as “white house on highway.” I sense that this is the route that most deacons don’t want to get–it’s reserved for the last deacon to pick up his envelopes from the Bishop. This assignment was a new experience for both of us–we didn’t know most of the families on this route, and I don’t have much experience finding homes in the country.

 

We weren’t having much success--if we were fortunate enough to find the right house, often nobody was home. We traversed interesting paths--we drove down a very long country lane beyond the “no trespassing sign” and over a rickety bridge to visit one family. At another home we were greeted by several large barking dogs followed by their owner, who cautioned us to stay in the car. As we were looking for another home, we only found a barn with several dogs devouring a helpless animal.  Another home we visited had a dead deer hanging in the garage.

 

After more than an hour searching for homes, Logan was becoming discouraged, but we kept persevering. When we arrived at the top of a hill overlooking the Sanpete valley, we noticed several non-functioning vehicles in the yard adjacent to an old run-down house.  Logan was hesitant to go knock on the door. The wind was howling and the air crisp. As we sat in the car for several minutes discussing the importance of visiting everyone on the route, the homeowner pulled up in his car. He was an elderly man, a retired mining electrician, who lives by himself and rarely has visitors. He asked who we were, and I told him we were from the church and were collecting fast offerings. He said, “I ain’t got no money.” 

 

He was obviously lonely because he stood outside our car and talked with us for several minutes, telling us of the difficulties he was experiencing in life.  Living alone without the benefits of family, he is worried about how all of his friends are dying. He worries about how expensive it is to live nowadays and how he has very little money to sustain himself. Yet he told us that he doesn’t need anybody’s help. Right before we were about to leave, he reached in his pocket and said, “This is all I got,” and handed us two coins for his fast offerings.

 

When we returned to the church, we told the counselor in the bishopric about this man, and encouraged a visit from his home teachers--sensing that he could benefit from regular visits. The counselor told us that this was the first time that any deacon had had the courage to visit him.

 

This brother, although not active in attending church and obviously having few material possessions, gave his two mites to help the “poor and needy” in our ward. This gave new meaning to me of the verse:

“When saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in?” (Matt. 25:37-38)

 

I love the hymns that our primary children sing. One of my favorite songs as a child was “Give, Said the Little Stream.” The text of this hymn was written in 1860 by Fanny Crosby, one of the most prolific hymnists in recorded history, who composed over 8,000 hymns. Now Fanny had several circumstances that could have prevented her from contributing to society. When she was six weeks old, an inflammation of the eye and its resulting treatment left her blind. Her father passed away when she was only one year old, leaving her mother to find employment in various towns, and leaving some of the care of Fanny to her grandmother. Because she was blind, Fanny did not receive a public education. It wasn’t until she was 15 years old that she enrolled in the newly-opened New York Institute for the Blind. She could have been hindered in acquiring knowledge because of her limited access to printed material. Yet Fanny did not let her disability prevent her from helping others. She dedicated her life to serving others, as a poet, hymnist, teacher, lecturer, and provider of assistance for the sick, poor, and needy in blighted neighborhoods and missions (Blumhofer, 2005).

 

As a young child, Fanny loved being outdoors where she could feel the sunshine and the wind, and listen to the songs of the birds and the flowing brooks. She would often play “among the shallow streams that fed the Croton River” (Blumhofer, 2005, p. 14). On long walks her grandmother vividly described nature to her–the shapes and colors of leaves and trees, birdcalls, flowers–so vividly that Fanny could distinguish among them. Fanny experienced firsthand how streams are a life-giving resource, and her Biblical training gave her perspective that “there is something all can give.”  At age 8 she reflected on her condition:

Oh, what a happy soul I am,

Although I cannot see,

I am resolved in this world

Contented I will be.

 

How many blessings I enjoy

That other people don’t!

To weep and sigh because I’m blind

I cannot nor I won’t. (Blumhofer, 2005, p. 26-27)

 

Fanny’s love of nature and her optimistic attitude in spite of challenges make the meaning of “Give, Said the Little Stream” more powerful.  This hymn teaches us three important messages. First, there is something that all can give. Second, when we give, we lift others. Third, living for God and others will bring such joy that we might be “singing all the day, ‘give away, oh, give away.’”

 

Many Ways to Give

We each have a role to play in establishing Zion. Individually and collectively we can care for the poor and the needy. We must first turn our hearts to our Father, who has “created all flesh,” the rich and the poor being “as precious in his sight as the other” (Jacob 2:21). It is upon Him that we depend for our lives and for all that we have and are (see Mosiah 4:21), for we are all beggars, depending “upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind” (Mosiah 4:19). We do not fare in this life according to our own self-management, nor do we prosper according to our own genius, or conquer according to our own strength (see Alma 30:17).  For “the Lord maketh poor and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up” (1 Sam. 2:7).

 

Being humble, we are more aware of the needs of others. Instead of simply praying for the poor and needy, we can pray that we may recognize the needs of the poor and make the time and effort to serve them. Spencer W. Kimball said,

"God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another mortal that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other...So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks—but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and from small but deliberate deeds!"  (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 252).

 

We can give love, laughter, attention, and hope to others.  We can provide leadership skills.  We can tutor a student who is struggling in school or be a mentor to a child in need. We can provide a listening ear and a caring heart to one who is depressed. We can give more generous fast offerings. We can donate to causes that facilitate the cycle of caring such as the Perpetual Education Fund and the Student Legacy Endowment. We can make and assemble humanitarian kits for distribution worldwide. We can give up our nonessentials so we have more time and energy to serve others.  Do we really have the time and money to waste on that which does not edify?

 

I realize that many of you go to school full time and may also work full time. You may feel that you don’t have time or money to give to others. Your days may be full with classes, studying, and work. May I submit to those of you in such circumstances that you reframe your daily activities so that they lead to service? As you sit through a lecture, read a chapter, take a test, do your job, or engage in other activities, ask yourself, “How can this experience help me to serve the Lord and His children better?” “How can my education here at BYU-Idaho benefit others besides myself?” Your life will have so much more meaning and you will experience so much more joy as you direct your personal efforts outward.

 

It is my prayer that our hearts will be moved to establish Zion in our homes, our communities, and throughout the world. May we center our lives in Christ by joining in a cycle of caring, being free with our substance and lifting others that they may be rich like unto us (see Jacob 2:17), in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.