Caring for the poor is less about 'stuff,' more about 'filling hunger for human contact,' says Sister Eubank at BYU

PROVO, Utah – More important than any donation or humanitarian giving is one-on-one connection with others, Sister Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities as well as the first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, told students at Brigham Young University during a forum address on Jan. 23.

“You are the gift,” she said. “You yourself are the gift. It isn’t the clothing, the hygiene kits, the school desks, the wells. It’s you.”

Recognizing there are many organizations and people who do enormous amounts of good in the world, Sister Eubank said in her experience, the most lasting good comes through simple acts of caring for one another.

“This kind of humanitarian work can be done by anyone at any time,” she said. “You don’t need warehouses or fundraising or transportation. You can be perfectly responsive to any need that comes to you, wherever you are.”

Asking listeners what it would look like “if each of us were our own well-stocked humanitarian organization,” Sister Eubank encouraged listeners to, rather than give out tangible goods in foreign locations, care for the needs that are non tangible, such as friendship, respect, peaceful dialogue, sincere interest, protective listening to children, birthday remembrances, and taking in the stranger.

“If we change our perspective so that caring for the poor and needy is less about giving away stuff and more about filling the hunger for human contact, and about hearing meaningful conversation, and creating rich and positive relationships, then the Lord can send us someplace,” she said.

This “giving” can be done by every person on his or her own, she said. “You don’t need a fund, but it takes a commitment.”

Recognizing some will not respond positively or are not ready for a friendship, Sister Eubank said there are plenty of people who are reachable.

“We live in a world that is coming apart, being pulled apart so that the unity of community, respect for other beliefs and tolerances of differences, and the protection of the minority is being shredded,” she said. “It’s terribly destructive to all of us when everyone outside the narrow little clan becomes an enemy we are going to vilify. As those forces rise, then so must a similarly strong answering sentiment and skill set on the opposing side.”

Sister Eubank said if she had the power, she would name each listener a humanitarian ambassador of peace and friendship from the Church of God to the Kingdom of God.

“This isn’t about who is good and bad and it’s not about who is rich or poor. … We all struggle with different sins, we are all down in the mire,” she said. “But through the grace of Jesus Christ we can repent and keep trying to be better, more like Him. We can make alliances with other people who are also trying for good in ways that may be very different from ours; but they strive to do the right things for the right reasons, and who recover from their mistakes through the virtues of God as they appeal to Him for help.”

Sister Eubank encouraged listeners to reflect on what they do in their leisure time. Using the example of a hog rolling in mud and an eagle soaring in the sky, she invited listeners to think of their extra time and whether or not he or she is rolling in the mud or soaring in the sky.

“Maybe you feel like me — what leisure time!?” she said. “I know that you are busy and you have callings and family and friends and many obligations. But after an experience I had two weeks ago, I realized that as busy as I think I am, the Lord puts opportunities right in my path and all I have to do is take advantage of them.”

She added, “The Lord often isn’t asking us for big, time-consuming gestures. He merely [asks for] minutes of our time to help another person on their way.”

Drawing from the words of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon where it reads, “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God,” Sister Eubank said this scripture “has realigned forever how I want to spend my leisure time.”

Sister Eubank cited a talk of Sister Linda K. Burton, former Relief Society general president, who encouraged listeners to think about the “strangers among us.”

“As true disciples of Jesus Christ, these habits of fearless courage, of being willing to serve and help people with their problems, and of thinking in terms of brothers and sisters — these habits should be with us all our lives,” said Sister Eubank.

The big humanitarian crises going on right now, as well as crises of the past, happen where people forget that all people are brothers and sisters and God is their Father.

“We can send bushels of food, we can dig wells and build latrines and put up schools and health care centers and settle them into apartments, but if we don’t do something about them feeling like they are strangers instead of brothers and sisters then it is all in vain and will just feed the cycle of emotional and spiritual misery.”

It is through serving others that a person is able to serve God, she taught.

“The questions I leave with you today are these: How are you going to help people who are poor in spirit? Can you stitch a relationship as well as you stitch a quilt? What enemy are you going to start viewing as your brother? Do you want to live your life as a hog or an eagle? …

“The Lord wants to use you. There is a work for you to do. It is specific to you and your abilities … but you need to be clean so you can do it. Jesus can lift you out of the mire and set you on your way. Repent and He will forgive. And remember that, in the same way as the Savior, you yourself are one of the best gifts that you can give to others in need.”

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