In August of 2007, a Church News reporter was dispatched to southwest Peru after a massive earthquake decimated several cities and claimed hundreds of lives — including many Latter-day Saints.
One of the regions hit hardest by the disaster was the Grocio Prado neighborhood in Peru’s Chincha Province. Many of the homes were reduced to rubble in an instant. Hundreds were forced to find shelter at nearby Church meetinghouses or under makeshift awnings. It was a grim sight. Residents mourned their dead even as they picked through their collapsed abodes in search of heirlooms and other personal treasures.
As the reporter walked through Grocio Prado, he encountered an unexpected oasis of hope, love and grit.
A group of women were huddled around a roadside table chopping up chickens, carrots, onions and potatoes to be added to a giant kettle of soup that would soon feed dozens of local quake victims. Despite being flanked by the stark, fallen reminders of the disaster, the women laughed and swapped stories as they went about their charitable work.
Most of the women wore Church-issued “Manos que Ayudan” vests. They were Relief Society sisters eager to offer comfort at a difficult moment with a warm bowl of chicken soup.
The reporter introduced himself, snapped a few photos and then asked what part of Peru the Relief Society sisters had traveled from to assist the Grocio Prado quake victims.
One woman traded a quick glance with her fellow sisters, and then answered, “No, Hermano, we’re not visitors. This is our neighborhood. We live in Grocio Prado.”
She then pointed across the street to a massive pile of brick, rebar and dust. “That’s my home,” she said.
Another woman raised her hand and pointed to another toppled structure. “And that’s where I live.”
In a moment of immediate insight, the reporter realized the service-driven Relief Society sisters were not simply helping the earthquake victims — they were the victims.
They were also true disciples of Christ. And all who found themselves within their tiny circle of service that day could trace the Lord’s loving hand at work. As Jesus himself once taught: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
The love of the Savior is an active love, taught Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in his April 2011 general conference address. “It is not manifested through large and heroic deeds but rather through simple acts of kindness and service.”
Perhaps charitable service helped the Grocio Prado Relief Society sisters cope with their own personal tragedy. Courage and community replaced their fear and emptiness as they discovered ways to ease their neighbors’ burdens.
“All of us can incorporate some service into our daily living,” said Sister Cheryl A. Esplin of the Primary general presidency. “We live in a contentious world. We give service when we don’t criticize, when we refuse to gossip, when we don’t judge, when we smile, when we say thank you, and when we are patient and kind.
“Other kinds of service take time, intentional planning, and extra energy. But they are worth our every effort. Perhaps we could start by asking ourselves these questions:
• Who in my circle of influence could I help today?
• What time and resources do I have?
• In what ways can I use my talents and skills to bless others?
• What might we do as a family?” (April 2016 general conference).
The Relief Society sisters in southern Peru followed a Christian impulse to put aside their own troubles and serve others during a desperate, dire episode of their lives. Fortunately, few of us will have to choose to serve after witnessing the destruction of our own home or neighborhood. But we will all face the choice to serve when there are other options vying for our time and attention.
An array of things in our busy lives are interesting and enticing.
“But some things are important,” said Elder William R. Bradford, a General Authority Seventy in his October 1987 general conference talk. “The limits of time dictate that we must prioritize what we do. The divinely given and heaven-protected gift of agency allows us to determine to what degree we will serve others and allow them to serve us. The depth of involvement in that which is important, rather than just interesting, is our own choice.
“As we make these choices, we might consider that the glitter and excitement of festive, fun-filled projects are interesting, but the shut-ins, the lonely, the handicapped, the homeless, the latchkey kids, and the abandoned aged are important.
“Worldly magazines, tabloids, and much of the multi-mass media mess of fast-track information we are receiving is interesting and enticing, but the scriptures are important.
“The RVs and the TVs and retirement ease make it interesting to wander and play, but people’s needs for selfless deeds are important.”
Whether you live in Grocio Prado, Peru, or in Draper, Utah, or in Accra, Ghana, or in any other community, there are opportunities to serve. Look around your neighborhood, your ward, or within the walls of your home. There are people in need — and they need you.
“As a pure expression of our love and concern, we can reach out to those who have need of our help,” concluded Elder Ballard.
“Many of you have put on Helping Hands T-shirts and worked tirelessly to relieve suffering and improve your communities. Through our heartfelt kindness and service, we can make friends with those whom we serve. From these friendships come better understanding of our devotion to the gospel and a desire to learn more about us.”
With the approaching Christmas season, many are trying to find that perfect gift for a loved one, a neighbor, or maybe even a stranger. Consider President Spencer W. Kimball’s timeless counsel:
“It is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom. So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving help with mundane tasks, but what glorious consequences can flow from small but deliberate deeds!” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball , p. 82).