It has been almost a decade since a tsunami, triggered by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, killed more than 220,000 people in a dozen nations in southeast Asia on Dec. 26, 2004.
In the weeks, months and years after the disaster, the Church went to work in the nations. The efforts — fueled by the fast offerings from members who responded to a request from the First Presidency — marked the first time the Church offered long-term assistance after a disaster.
Major Church projects included:
• The construction of 15 schools, including the training of new teachers.
• The building of 902 homes.
• The construction of three community centers.
• The construction of three health clinics and a wing of an existing hospital.
• The completion of 24 village water projects, reaching 20,000 people.
• The restoration of farms.
• The building of fishing boats.
• The purchase of sewing machines, looms and other self-employment equipment.
That longer-term aid and development in Indonesia and other countries followed emergency response efforts (“Tsunami relief, aid finished in Indonesia,” Church News, Jan. 26, 2008).
As with all the Church’s humanitarian efforts, the principles of self-reliance were woven into the tsunami relief. For example, the Church’s home-building project in Indonesia included hiring community members to do much of the labor. They helped in building their own homes and the homes of fellow villagers, thereby boosting the local economy as Church leaders drew on a labor force that was invested in the project.
In addition, Church and partner representatives met with the village community before construction began, so they understood what would happen. The Church provided materials and the opportunity to build a community center, if the residents provided the labor. Finally, recipients of new homes chose the color of paint for their homes and painted the homes themselves.
“We are here not just to help people, but to help people help themselves,” said William Reynolds, director of Church tsunami relief, after working in the country for 17 months. “We want to develop a program where we not only meet an immediate need, but also develop long-term capacity in individuals, families and the community” (“Work continues in Southeast Asia,” Church News, May 27, 2006).
Helping those in need is a Church principle that goes back to the earliest days of the Restoration. A formal Church welfare program started in the wake of the Great Depression. After World War II, the Church sent food to Europe to assist the Saints and others in war-devastated countries. But the Church’s efforts accelerated in 1985 when members united to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia.
President Thomas S. Monson said the Church takes most seriously the admonition from the Lord to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick (see Matthew 25).
“The Church is a worldwide Church,” he told the Church News in 2010. “We are just as interested in a starving child in Africa as we are a well-fed child in Los Angeles. We have to rally our resources and analyze where we can be of help.”
The Church won’t walk away from suffering, he said. “Starvation is starvation. Human beings dying are human beings dying. … I have seen enough to convince me where there is want and where there is suffering I would like to be there to lend a helping hand” (“Those with much,” Church News, Feb. 6, 2010).
Church leaders have done just that time and time again. The Church responded after an earthquake hit Haiti Jan. 12, 2010, after an earthquake and tsunami devastated part of Japan on March 11, 2011, and to hundreds of other disasters worldwide. In total, the Church has served nearly 30 million people in 179 countries since 1985 (Welfare Services statistical report).
Last month disaster struck the world again as Typhoon Haiyan hit the eastern Philippines on Nov. 8, killing thousands and displacing tens of thousands more.
“The Church has learned from experience that the best way to respond to disasters is to work locally, purchasing needed supplies in country as near to the disaster as possible,” said a statement issued by Welfare Services. “This not only ensures that the goods are appropriate for the area but it helps build up impaired, local economies. By working with and supporting local, reliable, relief agencies, the Church can build bridges, create friendships, and establish relationships that can extend far beyond the immediate crisis” (“The Best Way to Help,” Church News, Nov. 24, 2013).
Church members can follow this pattern by reaching out and serving those in need in their own families, neighborhoods, wards and cities. They can further reach out by paying a generous fast offering and contributing to the Church’s humanitarian aid effort at give.lds.org/lds.
It is a pattern of giving that will allow the Church to reach out for decades to come — following the example the Savior set almost 2,000 years ago.
“As we look heavenward, we inevitably learn of our responsibility to reach outward,” said President Monson. “To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. ... We do not live alone — in our city, our nation, or our world. There is no dividing line between our prosperity and our neighbor’s wretchedness. ‘Love thy neighbor’ is more than a divine truth. It is a pattern for perfection. … Ours is the opportunity to build, to lift, to inspire and indeed to lead” (Teachings of Thomas S. Monson, p. 281).