Scott G Winterton
Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, speaks at BYU during a campus devotional held at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018.

PROVO — After the funeral for late LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson on Jan. 12, his family asked the faith's Relief Society general presidency to deliver the funerary floral arrangements to local care centers.

Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the presidency, delivered one set of flowers to a care center near President Monson's home, where she learned that he regularly had spent some of his leisure time visiting the center's residents.

"I believe that the Lord isn’t asking us very many times for big, time-consuming gestures," she said Tuesday at a BYU forum assembly that drew 2,074 people to the Marriott Center. "He merely wants minutes of our time every day to help another person on their way."

Sister Eubank shared her unique perspective as a top leader of two major, international humanitarian organizations — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Relief Society with its 7.2 million members worldwide and as director of LDS Charities, which conducted projects in 147 countries in 2016.

What accomplishes the most lasting good, she said, is human contact and connection.

"You are the gift," she said. "You yourself are the gift. It’s not the clothing, it isn’t hygiene kits or school desks or wells. It’s you. What would it look like if each of us was our own well-stocked humanitarian organization, but instead of giving out tangible goods in foreign locations, we had the richness of dispensing healing and friendship and respect and peaceful dialogue and sincere interest and protective listening of children and birthday remembrances and talking to the stranger? What if that were what your humanitarian organization did?

"This kind of humanitarian work could be done by anybody and it could be done at any time and you don’t need warehouses and fundraising and transportation, and you could be perfectly responsive to any need that comes to you wherever you are."

She cited the example of Jesus Christ, who spent most of his ministry walking a 122-mile corridor in Israel ministering to people one-on-one.

"How is that going to get the gospel out to the whole world?" she said. "But that’s what he did."

If she had the power, Sister Eubank said she deputize each person who attended the forum or viewed the broadcast as "a human ambassador of peace and friendship from the church of God to the kingdom of God."

"If we 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 and about hearing meaningful conversations and creating rich, positive relationships, then the Lord can send us some place. Every single person can do this on his or her own. You don’t need a fund, but it’s going to take some commitment."

She said some people will react negatively and others will not be ready for such relationships, but the world needs such ambassadors.

"We live in a world that’s coming apart," she said. "It’s being pulled apart, so that the unity of community, and the respect for other people’s beliefs and tolerance of differences and the protection of the minority voice is being shredded. It’s extremely destructive to all of us when everyone outside of this narrow little clan becomes an enemy that we’re going to vilify. As those forces in our society rise up, then so must an answering strong sentiment and a skill set on the opposite side."

Sister Eubank left BYU students with some questions to consider: "How are you going to help people who are poor in spirit? Can you stitch a relationship as well as you can stitch a quilt? What enemy are you going to start viewing as a brother?"

She also shared several examples of people who gave humanitarian aid through simple human connection. One was Milton Collins, an elementary school principal in South Salt Lake highlighted in a Deseret News story for creating a safe environment for refugee children at his school.

4 comments on this story

Another was the worldwide response to former LDS Church Relief Society General President Linda K. Burton's April 2016 announcement of the faith's "I Was a Stranger" initiative, which emphasized one-on-one, local connections. The initiative followed church leaders' calls to help refugees. The combination of that call by the church leaders and the refugee initiative sparked a record year in LDS giving.

Sister Eubank also shared a video featuring the late Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles about one-on-one relationships.