Relief Society: 'I have seen the miracles'
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Each month, the Church News publishes a message to complement the Relief Society visiting teaching message found in the Ensign magazine. The article on this page is based on the April 2011 message: "The purpose of Relief Society."
When Relief Society was organized the first thing early Latter-day Saint women did was go from house to house and evaluate "who had needs and who had something to share," said Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president.
Standing at the heart of Welfare Square in downtown Salt Lake City and talking about the Church's welfare system, Sister Beck said those first Relief Society sisters would take up collections in a basket and disperse what they had to those in need.
"That principle is at the foundation of everything we do," explained Sister Beck.
More than 150 years later, participating in the welfare system of the Church still doesn't require equipment or trucks or tractors or buildings, she said. It is just "something we do in simple ways wherever we live."
Sister Beck recalled meeting with a number of women serving in parliaments and government cabinets in several Central African nations.
"They were wondering what [Relief Society] would do in their country if we were there," she recalled. "I said, 'At our foundation we are about strengthening the faith of people, strengthening families, and about looking around at helping others.'
"They wanted an example of that. I said, 'Well in Relief Society we visit each other. We learn what the needs are. Maybe one woman is sick and she needs help, and another one needs a pencil for her child to go to school, and another one's children need shoes, and another one is about to have a baby.' "
All the needs are assessed. "Then they come back and say, 'In our group do we have the resources to take care of each other?' And those resources are volunteered — a pencil for this woman and shoes for that child and a cup of rice for another family."
Sister Beck said as she was describing the process of visiting teaching and other ways Relief Society sisters take care of one another, the African leaders began nodding their heads.
They said, "That is a model that will work in Africa, in all of our countries."
Sister Beck added, "That is the core of welfare. It works everywhere, in every culture and economic situation. It is looking around to who has needs and assessing those needs among ourselves and offering what we can."
And when there isn't enough, Sister Beck added, "I have seen the miracles of the Lord making up the difference."
The purpose of Relief Society
"In the foundation they created, those great sisters set 'charity never faileth' at the center. It served them at the beginning, it served them in the great period that followed, it serves them now in a new time, and it will serve the Relief Society in all the periods ahead.
"This society is composed of women whose feelings of charity spring from hearts changed by qualifying for and by keeping covenants offered only in the Lord's true Church. Their feelings of charity come from Him through His Atonement. Their acts of charity are guided by His example — and come out of gratitude for His infinite gift of mercy — and by the Holy Spirit, which He sends to accompany His servants on their missions of mercy. Because of that, they have done and are able to do uncommon things for others and to find joy even when their own unmet needs are great."
— President Henry B. Eyring, "The Enduring Legacy of Relief Society," October 2009 general conference
"Relief Society inspires women and teaches them how to adorn their lives with those things which women need — things that are 'lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.' ... In the work of the Relief Society are intellectual, cultural, and spiritual values found in no other organization and sufficient for all general needs of its members. "
— President Boyd K. Packer, "The Relief Society," April 1998 general conference
"Relief Society is meant to provide relief, which means to lift up, to lighten, to raise someone up or out of trouble.
"Relief Society, which has responsibility 'to look after the spiritual welfare and salvation … of all the female members of the Church,' was organized to provide 'relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow and the orphan, and for the exercise of all benevolent purposes.' This includes 'relief of poverty, relief of illness, relief of doubt, relief of ignorance — relief of all that hinders the joy and progress of woman.'
"Providing for ourselves and others is evidence that we are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. ...
"We demonstrate our faith when we use our time, talents, meetings, and activities to first take care of the things that are essential for temporal and spiritual welfare and salvation. As we do this, love, unity, joy, sisterhood, and blessings will abound."
— Sister Julie B. Beck, "The Welfare Responsibilities of the Relief Society President," Basic Principles of Welfare and Self-Reliance.