As part of his apostolic duties, Elder D. Todd Christofferson meets with members and many others across the world. He’s witnessed places of great beauty and wealth.
“But I have also met numerous people of great potential and goodness living in terrible poverty, struggling to provide the basic necessities of life for their families,” he said Wednesday during his plenary address at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“It is often heartbreaking.”
Elder Christofferson is no stranger to Argentina. He served a mission in the South American nation and retains a love for “this country and its wonderful people.”
Now as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he commits Christ’s teachings to care for the poor and needy. “We believe that is one of our fundamental moral obligations as a people and a Church. With members in virtually every country in the world, we seek to help wherever and whenever we reasonably can.”
His remarks at the forum of global religious leaders focused on the Church’s worldwide efforts to help “those less fortunate.” His intention was not to boast — only to “share our experiences” and build understanding. “We all have much to learn from each other, whatever our religious or ethical motivations for serving.”
The Church’s efforts to help the less fortunate are jointly anchored to meeting both a person’s short- and long-term needs. It is vital to distinguish between the two.
“Someone who lacks sufficient food cannot pursue an education,” he said. “But treating long-term problems as if they were short-term needs can produce dependency, indolence and resentment. Therefore, while the Church of Jesus Christ has programs aimed at both types of needs, the ultimate goal is always to foster greater dignity, self-sufficiency and independence.”
The Church’s Humanitarian Relief efforts supply basic necessities to those in acute need — whether caused by natural disaster, political instability or other forces.
Assistance is provided without regard to race, religious affiliation or nationality.
“Over the past three decades, the Church and its members have given more than $2 billion in assistance to people in 195 countries and territories,” he said. “Our objective is to relieve suffering, foster self-reliance and provide opportunities for service.”
Elder Christofferson explained that all such aid is based on core principles of personal responsibility, self-reliance and sustainability.
Recent examples include emergency relief projects following natural disasters such as earthquakes in Mexico and hurricanes in the Caribbean and the Philippines. There are also longer-term programs that provide communities with, say, improved sanitation facilities and training, and equipment for improved neonatal care.
“In contrast with these humanitarian programs, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has programs that provide or facilitate practical education and skills that supply what some might call ‘human capital’ — the knowledge and ability to be more productive and create lasting economic and personal improvements.”
The Church’s Self-Reliance initiative, for example, provides opportunities for course participants to build a network of friendship and support that builds confidence and positive behaviors, leading to economic and personal success. It focuses on the “whole person” by building both faith in God and essential principles such as integrity, honesty, hard work, service and teamwork.
“Secular knowledge and faith combine to empower group members to achieve their goals and become more self-reliant.”
But does it really work?
"I’m happy to report that the results have been marvelous,” he said. “In just three-and-a-half years, over 700,000 participants have taken a course, including thousands from other faiths. In Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay alone, almost 7,000 business have been started or improved, over 4,200 individuals have found a new or better job, about 1,500 participants completed a personal financial course, and approximately 7,000 others started an education with a career goal.”
The Church’s Perpetual Education Fund is another key program improving lives and families. The idea of PEF is simple: loan money to motivated but underprivileged individuals so they can obtain a formal education, allowing them to pay the loan back gradually as their education leads to greater income and a higher standard of living.
And its results?
“Since its launch in 2001, the Perpetual Education Fund has issued more than 93,000 loans in over 70 countries, including over 2,500 loans in Argentina alone,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Brigham Young University-Pathway Worldwide program makes higher education more accessible without the need for students to come to a university campus. Flexibility and affordable tuition allow participants to further their education and build valued skills.
“Through both the Perpetual Education Fund and the Pathway program we seek to provide participants with the education and skills needed to succeed in the economy of the future,” he said.
Elder Christofferson emphasized that the Church’s aim is to help not only individuals but also their families.
“When breadwinners are able to escape poverty and become economically and personally self-reliant, they have more resources to raise their children to be self-sufficient, educated, productive and good citizens,” he said. “And people who are self-reliant can better serve in their communities and make valuable contributions to their societies and nations.”
Concluding, Elder Christofferson shared his vision of success in the quest to alleviate poverty and elevate society:
“It comes from my faith’s scriptures, which tell of a promised land, a holy city, established by the Prophet Enoch thousands of years ago. All who sought to live in peace and walk with God were welcomed there. In time the city became great in the eyes of God, even heavenly, because, as our scriptures state, the people ‘were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them’” (Moses 7:18).