SALT LAKE CITY — The introduction of the LDS Church's formal welfare program 75 years ago — on April 6, 1936 — provided a focus for several speakers during the 181st general conference.
First known as the Church Security Plan, the program was introduced by then-President Heber J. Grant and his counselors, J. Reuben Clark and David O. McKay. Elder Melvin J. Ballard was the first chairman and Harold B. Lee, who later became church president, the first managing director.
In its 75 years, the program has touched virtually every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially through its primary principle of fostering self-reliance. Most have been either a contributor or recipient of the program's goods and services that support individuals and families when their needs outstrip self-reliance.
Benefits have extended as well to numerous people outside church ranks in times of exceptional needs such as natural disasters. Devastating earthquakes, floods, tsunamis and other natural disasters in recent times have generated enormous needs.
In the Sunday morning general session, Presiding Bishop H. David Burton spoke on both the temporal and spiritual aspects of welfare. "As sons and daughters of God, we cannot inherit the full measure of eternal life without being fully invested in caring for each other while we are here on earth," he said. "Since the foundation of the world, the cloth of righteous societies has ever been woven from the golden threads of charity. … The prophetic welfare plan is not merely an interesting footnote in the history of the church. The principles on which it is based defines who we are as a people. It is the essence of who we are as individual disciples of our Savior and exemplar, Jesus the Christ."
Also addressing the welfare aspect of the church were:
Sister Silvia H. Allred, first counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency: "(Welfare service) is, in fact, the essence of discipleship in the true Church of Jesus Christ. … Relief Society has always been at the heart of welfare. … When love becomes the guiding principle in our care for others, our service to them becomes the gospel in action. It is the gospel in its finest moment. It is pure religion."
President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency: "Our Heavenly Father hears the prayers of his children across the earth pleading for food to eat, clothes to cover their bodies and for the dignity that would come from being able to provide for themselves. … Because the Lord hears their cries and feels your deep compassion, he has from the beginning provided ways for his disciples to help. He has invited his children to consecrate their time, their means and themselves to join with him in serving others."
LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson: "I declare that the welfare program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is inspired of Almighty God."
The welfare program affects individual church members in many ways. A handful of examples includes:
Reynold and Diane Brown, American Fork, who served missions in India. When the horrific tsunami of 2004 killed more than 150,000 and devastated huge areas of countries abutting the Indian Ocean, the church "immediately went into action," said Diane Brown. The couple helped distribute sorely needed hygiene kits in stricken areas. Later, when their area of India were hit by major flooding that destroyed crops. wiping out not only immediate supplies but prospects for the future, the couple was involved in getting 60-pound bags of seeds to 1,175 families to provide not only food for themselves, but for cash crops to support other needs. Part of their ongoing charge as missionaries was helping to dig wells to provide clean drinking water. In one instance, the couple served in a location where very cold temperatures were common, contributing to the deaths of babies. Local authorities (who had been critical of the church) asked for help in preventing the untimely infant deaths. Church donations of woolen caps and blankets for the babies made a huge difference in the death rate.
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