What feeling God’s love has to do with ending poverty, Sister Yee says at U.N. conference

Relief Society leader participates in ‘End poverty in all its forms everywhere’ panel as part of U.N.’s International Academic Conference on the Sustainable Development Goals

Ending poverty begins with recognizing one’s value as a child of God and then looking outward, said Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, during a panel discussion on Thursday, Oct. 6. 

“It begins with where our hearts are at, and our own ability to love and to feel God in our lives and to see Him in our lives. … Once we do feel that love, we’re able to look outward and … feel that same love [for others] and have that desire to serve them,” she said. 

Sister Yee was one of three participants in a panel titled “End poverty in all its forms everywhere” as part of the United Nations’ International Academic Conference on the Sustainable Development Goals, held at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah, Oct. 5-7. The conference is titled “Why It Matters.”

The other participants were Javier Cortés, CEO of Cope & UNCO, and Nandini Praveen, a student of His Highness The Maharajas Government Law College in India. Lonny Ward, director of CHOICE Humanitarian, moderated the discussion. 

Sister Yee spoke of the Church’s commitment to serving those in need. This topic of poverty, she said, “is one of deep importance because it is at the heart of the beliefs and principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe in serving our neighbors, loving God and loving His children.”

Poverty: an urgent problem

According to a United Nations report, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed the steady progress of poverty reduction over the past 25 years. Rising inflation and the war in Ukraine have further exasperated this reversal. 

“There is an urgency for this, as we look at our brothers and sisters across the earth who find themselves in circumstances they never thought they would be in, or do not desire to be in,” Sister Yee said. “We have an opportunity and privilege to assist them.”

Poverty is not only a physical problem, she said. “It’s an emotional and spiritual space as well.”

She spoke of the Relief Society organization’s effort to provide temporal and spiritual relief to God’s children across the world. She also highlighted how the Church is working to reduce suffering and poverty in collaboration with many organizations.

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How caring for the earth is a sacred duty, Bishop Budge explains

In 2021 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 

  • Expended $906 million to help those in need in 188 countries and territories.
  • Volunteered approximately 6.8 million hours of service.
  • Helped 1.7 million people through 114 clean water and sanitation projects.
  • Participated in seven campaigns to end diseases such as diabetes, polio and measles.
  • Distributed 1 billion vaccine doses.
  • Supported over 31,000 small-scale family farms.
  • Produced over 100 million pounds of food.

Recently the Church gave $32 million to the United Nations World Food Programme to assist 1.6 million in nine countries — its largest one-time donation to a humanitarian organization. The Church has also been working to assist refugees in Ukraine.

Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, center left, participates in a panel titled “End poverty in all its forms everywhere” as part of the First Annual International Academic Conference on the Sustainable Development Goals held at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah, Oct. 5-7. The conference is titled “Why It Matters.” | Screenshot from YouTube

How is the Church working to address the structural issues of poverty?

In response to a question about how the Church is working to address the structural issues of poverty, Sister Yee cited three examples: Deseret Industries, the Addiction Recovery Program and BYU–Pathway Worldwide. An individual does not need to be a member of the Church to participate in any of these programs, she added. 

Deseret Industries is more than a thrift store and donation center — its main purpose is to serve as a job-training facility. “They can have a mentorship there and be able to have a spot where someone can help them see their potential … and gain a path for employment,” Sister Yee said of those who work there.

The Church sponsors recovery support groups as part of the Addiction Recovery Program for anyone struggling with an addiction or compulsive behavior. “There’s about 2,800 recovery programs meeting per week in 30 countries in 17 different languages. And 304,405 people just this last year were a part of those,” she said.

BYU–Pathway Worldwide is designed to help those who don’t have access to education. “This is an opportunity for education for all of God’s children,” Sister Yee said. “There are 60,000 students in 180 countries.”

How does teaching religious principles help the poverty program?

“Knowing who we are changes how we think about ourselves and what our potential is,” Sister Yee said.

She talked about her experience growing up in Sacramento, California, and moving to an orchard in Burley, Idaho, where she learned the value of hard work and her potential as a child of God. 

Quoting President Ezra Taft Benson, she said: “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take the people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of the people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”

Sister Yee continued: “The potential is right here in each of us — it’s powerful. If we understand who we are, we can make that change. And understanding who loves us can change how we do things and why we do things and give us the motivation.” 

In conclusion, Sister Yee said: “We can make a difference not just as faith communities, not as just government operations or as NGOs, but as individuals, families, communities within your own home, within your own neighborhoods. You know people who either are in need both spiritually or temporally.”

While working toward the goal of lifting people suffering from poverty around the world, “let us not forget those within our sphere of influence, because that’s where it truly begins. …,” Sister Yee added. “There is a purpose for your placement. So look around you and see what that looks like. Where can you contribute? Where can you love? Where can you serve?”

Bishop L. Todd Budge, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, spoke in the inaugural session on Oct. 5 about how individuals, families and communities share a sacred duty to care for the earth.

“The consequences of our actions, for better or worse, accumulate into the future and are sometimes felt only generations later,” Bishop Budge said. “Stewardship requires feet and hands at work in the present with a gaze fixed on the future.”

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