'Willing hands'

During the October 1856 general conference, President Brigham Young announced that handcart pioneers were stranded hundreds of miles away from the Salt Lake Valley. "Go and bring in those people now on the plains, and attend strictly to those things that we call temporal or temporal duties, otherwise your faith will be in vain," he told the LDS congregation.

Church members responded immediately to President Young's charge. The men formed rescue parties and drove into the storm on the plains of what would become Wyoming. Women "stripped off their petticoats, stockings and everything they could spare, right there in the Tabernacle, and piled [them] into the wagons to send to the Saints in the mountains," wrote Lucy Meserve Smith (Daughters in My Kingdom pp. 36-37).

In addition, they continued to gather bedding and clothing for the ill-fated handcart pioneers to use after they arrived in the valley. "We did all we could with the aid of the good brethren and sisters, to comfort the needy as they came in with the handcarts late in the fall. … As our society was short of funds then, we could not do much, but the four bishops could hardly carry the bedding and other clothing we got together the first time we met. We did not cease our exertions [un]til all were made comfortable."

Ultimately, rescue teams returned to the valley and the once-stranded pioneers were taken into homes of Church members and nursed back to health. At the conclusion of the crisis, Sister Smith's words expressed the feelings of many hearts in the Salt Lake Valley: "What comes next for willing hands to do?" (Daughters in My Kingdom p. 37).

Many of us who have felt the joy of service might ask the same question.

As Latter-day Saints, we are very good at responding in times of crisis or disaster. We cook meals, don "Helping Hands" vests and contribute to massive clean-up efforts. But Sister Smith's question speaks to what we, as a people who have a desire to give service, do on a daily basis, after the disasters have ended.

During the October 2010 General Relief Society Meeting President Thomas S. Monson spoke of this kind of charity — a charity that is more than relieving suffering through the giving of our substance.

Although that charity is "necessary and proper," President Monson spoke of "the charity that manifests itself when we are tolerant of others and lenient towards their actions, the kind of charity that forgives, the kind of charity that is patient."

He said, "I have in mind the charity that impels us to be sympathetic, compassionate and merciful, not only in times of sickness and affliction and distress but also in times of weakness or error on the part of others.

"There is a serious need for the charity that gives attention to those who are unnoticed, hope to those who are discouraged, aid to those who are afflicted. True charity is love in action. The need for charity is everywhere.

"Needed is the charity which refuses to find satisfaction in hearing or in repeating the reports of misfortunes that come to others, unless by so doing, the unfortunate one may be benefited. …

"Charity is having patience with someone who has let us down. It is resisting the impulse to become offended easily. It is accepting weaknesses and shortcomings. It is accepting people as they truly are. It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time. It is resisting the impulse to categorize others."

The scriptures teach that charity is the "pure love of Christ" (Moroni 7:47).

The apostle Paul taught that charity excels and exceeds almost all else.

"Charity never faileth … ," he wrote. "Now abideth faith, hope charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).

We also know that we must have charity if we want to inherit the Celestial Kingdom. "And now I know that this love which thou hast had for the children of men is charity; wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father" (Ether 12:34).

President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, taught in the October 2009 General Relief Society Meeting that charity springs "from hearts changed by qualifying for and by keeping covenants offered only in the Lord's true Church."

He explained that feelings of charity come from our Savior Jesus Christ through His Atonement. "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," he said.

President Monson said during the 2010 General Relief Society Meeting that in a hundred small ways, all of us wear the mantle of charity.

"Life is perfect for none of us," he said. "Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we recognize that each one is doing her best to deal with the challenges which come [our] way, and may we strive to do our best to help out."

He asked that Church members remember the long-enduring Relief Society motto — Charity Never Faileth — and that the motto guide us in everything we do.

He was speaking of the kind of charity that not only allowed early Latter-day Saints to strip off petticoats and fill wagons that rescue teams drove into a storm, but also motivated them to ask a simple question when the crisis was over: "What comes next for willing hands to do?"

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