I was recently assigned to speak on Sunday in church on the topic of service. I always found this topic critical to the definition of ourselves as individuals and in the context of the society we live in. Let me share some of the thoughts I shared with my church brothers and sisters. Even if you take Christianity out of the picture, in my humble opinion the principles are valuable and need to be pondered upon.
Upon arrival to the mission office as a newly called missionary for my church, and after two days of training with my Mission President and his assistants, I was given my first assignment and companion. I was to travel by train to the leaning tower city of Pisa and meet my first companion at the train station for my very first day in the mission field. I had high expectations of preaching the word of God and turning unbelievers into believers. It was the enthusiasm of a 20 something year old young man with no true experience of life. So, after meeting my smiling companion and feeling his enthusiasm as well, I thought we would be immediately engaged in missionary activities, at least in the way I believed what that meant. However, after depositing my luggage, we left our apartment and we took the bus to a catholic nursery home for assisted living seniors, managed by nuns. I thought we were going to see some older person who was interested in the gospel, or even better, maybe the nuns wanted to have some deep doctrinal discussion about the nature of God. I was soon disappointed when a nun came to greet my companion and I and assigned us to a room where we were to feed those who lived there. I have to confess that my first thought was of displacement. I did not think I understood the reason for me to be there. Plus, it was evident that the nuns were doing a great job. However, something began to happen when I saw the expression of gratitude by that nun who gave us the assignment as she left us to our task with a ‘God bless you for what you do.’ As soon as I took a spoonful of soup and put it in the mouth of a disabled woman who could not speak because of her condition, a spirit of deep humility enwrapped me and I saw my purpose and mission in a very different light. As tears rolled down my cheek, I began to understand, as a Christian, the words of the Christ when he said: “…For I was hungered and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger and ye took me in… Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:35-40 KJV) As a person, the very acting of being available brought me to the realization that we are all connected and that we all need each other. Without others, we would have a really miserable existence. All of a sudden, many of the teachings I had received from my parents and extended family began to make sense. I understand now that faith without works is indeed dead. So is preaching doctrine without practising the works of service. Paul epitomized this principle when he wrote: “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work…Being enriched in everything to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God. For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God.” (2 Corinthians 9: 8, 11-12 KJV)
A holy man and nation ruler of the past once said: “Behold I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, because I have only been in the service of God. And behold, I tell you these things that you may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:16-17 The Book of Mormon). He further taught: “And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just. But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?” (Mosiah 4:16-19 The Book of Mormon)
I came to appreciate this principle again while on my mission. My companion and I were walking down one of streets in Florence, and a beggar was sitting by where we were walking. My companion had no hesitation: he took some coins from his pocket and gave them to the beggar. I then asked why he had done that as he did not know whether the man would use it wisely. He responded that he did not need to know, that he was simply following the admonishment of the Saviour and His prophets that “…inasmuch as he have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Another lesson that will always be with me for the rest of my life.
Gordon B. Hinckley said: “No man can be a true [good neighbour], who does not reach out and help others. It is inherent in the very nature of the gospel that we do so … we cannot live onto ourselves.”
I found for myself that in the service of others I feel closer to God and that my spiritual ears and eyes are more open and attentive. In fact, more than once, I found that my needs were met through service to others and through the spiritual interaction with those whom I served. Spencer W. Kimball, whose life exemplified the word service, once said: “God does notice us and watches after us. But it is usually through another mortal that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom.”
Opportunities for service are all around us and are always available. Let us be engaged in a good cause and seek for those opportunities.
I wish to suggest some simple ways to serve in a valuable and meaningful way.
First, serve your family which is your closest neighbour: fathers and husbands, resist the temptation to a tired and negative attitude after a long and stressful day at work, and recharge yourselves by relieving your wives in the simple chores around the house. Help your children to appreciate the warmth you feel inside when you help your own family. The spirit of unity and the Spirit of the Lord will be in the house and people that come to visit will notice the difference. I am very grateful to my parents for teaching me this principle. I am also extremely grateful to my wife who exemplifies the word service in our house and to all the people she knows. She has learned this from her parents and I am ever blessed to be part of her life.
Second, serve your community. There are many volunteer opportunities where you live. For instance, if you have children in school, helping in a school event is very rewarding and builds a stronger bond with your children not to mention with their school mates. Or seek for opportunities to associate yourselves with the organization of a community event. Find something you like: there are many things happening in your community that you can certainly find something that can meet your desires and talents. A successful city service program, for instance, is helping keep the street where you live clean and tidy. It’s called the Communities in Bloom program. I personally decided to join a service club as a way to repay my community for the professional opportunity it invested in me. You do not have to do that, but again, if you seek for opportunities you will find them.
Third, serve within your circle of influence. You have friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that are within your reach. Through the exercise of the pure love of Christ, we can easily realize the needs of those we know and promptly act when we recognize that something needs to be done. Steven Snow said: “Service is to be given as needed, not when convenient. Opportunities to serve may not always seem obvious, as it is human nature to worry about our own wants and needs. We must resist such tendencies and look for opportunities to serve… look for ways to bless the lives of others through seemingly simple acts of service. It is better to do even things of little consequence than to do nothing at all.”
In conclusion, I wish to share the words of a beautiful hymn that I have known since my youth:
Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.
Has anyone’s burden been lighter today
Because I was willing to share?
Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way?
When they needed my help was I there?
Then wake up and do something more
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,
A blessing of duty and love.