Yao Zhang has a benefactor to thank for helping him gain a college education, but he will never know the person’s identity.
Born in Myanmar to a Chinese family, Zhang was not recognized as a Burmese citizen, which limited his educational opportunities. He traveled to Mandalay, one of Myanmar’s largest cities, to go to school.
He eventually joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served a mission to Australia. While there, his mission president encouraged him to apply for admission at Brigham Young University-Hawaii following his mission. Zhang did, and doors of opportunity opened for him to get his education.
Zhang graduated in April with a degree in finance. But his education would not have been possible without someone’s generous donation to LDS Philanthropies, an organization that receives funds for LDS Church-sponsored philanthropic activities with the goal of blessing and changing lives.
“I really, really appreciate the donor’s contributions that make it possible for all the people who are willing to come and study here,” Zhang said in The Presidents’ Report, a BYU-Hawaii publication. “They (the donors) are saving thousands of lives. They are helping a lot of people.”
Zhang’s education was made possible by a financial aid program called “I-WORK,” which stands for International Work Opportunity, Returnability and “Kuleana,” the Hawaiian word for responsibility.
I-WORK, which encourages self-reliance and industry, is designed to assist students from the Pacific Rim in obtaining a quality education at BYU-Hawaii. Preference is given to returned missionaries so they can return home to their countries debt-free and become a pillar in their families and communities.
While I-WORK covers tuition, fees, housing and other expenses, students agree to do their part by working a part-time job, keeping grades up and returning home when they graduate. Zhang supervised other student workers in the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Prime Dining Restaurant.
“It blesses lives across the world,” said Michael A. Johanson, BYU-Hawaii director of communications.
But the I-WORK program is just one small fish in a large pond of efforts by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to facilitate voluntary contributions — beyond tithing and fast offerings — to the LDS Church and its affiliated charities.
Charity and blessing lives
LDS Philanthropies, founded under the name LDS Foundation in 1971, and its sister company, Deseret Trust Co., established in 1972, work together to assist Latter-day Saint donors with contributions to church educational institutions, LDS charities and humanitarian aid, the Perpetual Education Fund and special church projects. The two report directly to the LDS Church’s Presiding Bishopric.
"Some choose to give, through the assistance of LDS Philanthropies, to bless the students and programs of Brigham Young University in Provo, Idaho and in Hawaii or to humanitarian services. Others choose to give to the general missionary fund, church history, the Perpetual Education Fund or other important church-sponsored programs and institutions," said McClain Bybee, managing director of LDS Philanthropies.
"All are important," he said. "All have a specific role in building the kingdom and blessing Heavenly Father's children. As a church department, our responsibility is to help the Saints know what opportunities they have to assist the church, then help them do what they would like within the priorities established by the presiding leaders of the church."
One hundred percent of everything that is contributed through LDS Philanthropies goes to the specific purpose it was contributed for. There is no overhead taken out for administrative costs. Many donations come from people who aren’t members of the LDS Church, mostly for humanitarian efforts, according to a 2005 LDS Church News article.
“For those capable of doing more, LDS Philanthropies provides a reliable way for donors to support worthwhile initiatives," said Bishop Gerald Causse, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric.
Charity should be the primary motive for those who contribute, according to Ron Taylor, communications manager for LDS Philanthropies.
“It’s all about charity. Charity is one of the core elements of the gospel. But it’s personal as well,” Taylor said. “The Lord had organized LDS Philanthropies in the kingdom as a way to help the Saints know what is needed and where they can help most effectively to strengthen the Saints and move the kingdom forward.”
In addition to the blessings of service, Bybee and David Moore, president and CEO of Deseret Trust Co., can tell stories of families who were blessed, as well as ruined, by inheritances.
“When it comes down to money and estates, it's these material things that literally rip families apart. Over my 38 years in this work, I have seen wonderful families who when mom and dad die ... they fight. Someone doesn’t feel they got their portion. They’ve never learned that life isn’t fair, and the distribution of the estate wasn’t fair, and dad and mom didn’t understand when they wrote it all out,” Bybee said.
“What we’re saying is between this partnership (LDS Philanthropies and Deseret Trust), we are a wonderful resource of the church to its members, professionals who do planning, and to those who are not of our faith.”
There are many stories of Christian values through the acts of philanthropy, Bybee said. He related the story of a woman, not Mormon, whose father has given the LDS Church close to $50 million.
“She witnessed how that has brought her family together. In the end, it wasn’t about the money. The money may change their lives, she said, but it may not be for their good,” Bybee said. “Now she can see the good it’s going to do in the lives of others and how it will perpetuate values and her father’s legacy.”
Taylor related the story of a wealthy church member who is raising two teenage boys. The man had legitimate concerns that the family’s money would ruin his sons. Then he had an idea. The man established a trust fund with Deseret Trust where the two boys are the co-chairmen.
“This way they see it (the funds) as a stewardship, not an entitlement. The boys find worthy causes and recommend how the funds are used,” Taylor said. “It seems the plan is working well.”
How to contribute
There are a broad range of choices in the types of gifts patrons can contribute to LDS Philanthropies, including cash, securities, real estate, wills/bequests, trusts, life insurance policies, annuities, art, collectibles, equipment, patents and copyrights, and other special situations. Strict confidentiality is honored with each gift. For more information, visit www.ldsphilanthropies.org or www.deserettrust.com.
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