On 8 November 2013, the Philippines was struck by a powerful category 5 tropical cyclone. Typhoon Haiyan, known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, destroyed over a million homes and left more than 6,200 people dead. As of January, 2014, bodies were still being found. Included in that devastating loss were the homes and lives of family and loved ones of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the “Mormon” Church by the media and others). In the wake of the storm, relief and rebuilding efforts continue by The Church of Jesus Christ in some of the hardest hit areas as there are still many residents without shelter.
Mormon Helping Hands Help to Rebuild Storm Torn Community
One of the principles of the gospel that Mormons are taught from an early age is the importance of serving others. They understand that when they are in the service of their fellowman, they are in the service of God. And so, when disasters such as the typhoon in the Philippines occur, they are ready and willing to render assistance wherever needed with their reward being the blessing of knowing that they are able to bless the lives of others through their humble efforts.
Presiding Bishop Gary E. Stevens and President of the Church’s Philippines Area, Elder Brent H. Nielson, recently met with other local Church leaders in Tacloban, where workers in yellow Mormon Helping Hands vests were busy constructing new shelters for those who had lost their homes. One of the homes that they witnessed being built was that of a widow, her daughter, and her grandchild.
Bishop Stevenson remarked that President Monson and the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ had directed the humanitarian efforts to take place after viewing images of the mass destruction that had taken place in the Philippines, and they also expressed “a deep love for the members of the Church and the members of the community in this devastated area.”  Bishop Stevenson further commented that even after a couple of months of disaster response and relief efforts, there is still much to be done as there are still many people without a secure place to lay down and rest at night.
The Wake of the Storm Brings Blessings
One of the immediate blessings brought about by the storm is that the community is able to draw closer together as people learn new skills and are able to help their neighbors to return to a state of normalcy in their lives. Not only are they able to have new homes built for themselves, but with their new found skills, they have become a valuable part of the relief efforts as they help rebuild their community.
Ricky Gonzolez and Jenalyn Barantes took shelter with their families at a Mormon chapel when the typhoon hit. Barantes said her home was destroyed when coconut trees fell on it. She and her family did not have the means to fix it, but volunteers helped her build a new house, and she is now helping another family construct a home. “I learned to work together with those who are also in need here so we can recover from [the typhoon] together,” said Barantes. “We are happy that the leaders of the Church helped us.” 
Gonzolez is learning how to build homes for his family and others after his home was destroyed in the typhoon and he lost his job after the business where he was working closed its doors. “We know we need to help one another so that work can be completed quicker,” said Gonzolez, who is grateful for the Church’s relief efforts. “I can say that they are very good and they are quick to respond.”
Bishop Stevenson stated that the principle of welfare (caring for the poor and needy) is being demonstrated, while at the same time, the principle of self-reliance is being put into action. “One of the things that we’re trying to do is provide materials while [recipients] provide labor. Anyone who is receiving a shelter is also working to build that shelter themselves.” 
Local Church leaders and humanitarian representatives are also meeting with local community leaders to give vocational training and certification to people who have learned carpentry skills. The training is being provided through the Church’s Perpetual Education Fund (PEF). To assist with that training, 10 master carpenters have been brought in to teach the local trainees. In order to be certified by the government, the trainees must demonstrate what they have learned by building 10 shelters. In addition, they will receive a toolbox from the Church, and an opportunity to seek gainful employment.
And so, another blessing brought about by the storm, is the blessing of restored hope. To many who may have felt there was no way out of the situation that they have found themselves in, they can now see that there is a light at the end of a seemingly dark tunnel, and as the psalmist declared, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church—have often heard the adage: Fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. This is precisely what is happening with an abandoned Mormon meetinghouse near downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. The Church of Jesus Christ donated the site to the American Cancer Society in 2011 for the Hope Lodge—housing for cancer patients and their caregivers while they undergo treatments. And the American Cancer Society recently partnered with the local Habitat for Humanity to salvage usable materials for building homes for Salt Lake Valley families in need. 
The three-story, brick building—built in 1951, mostly by local members of the ward, or congregation—housed the 13th Ward until 2008, when the congregation was moved to another location. The Church of Jesus Christ donated the 2.2-acre lot, worth an estimated $4.2 million, to the American Cancer Society in 2011. When the donation was announced, Glenn McKay, director of real estate for The Church of Jesus Christ, said:
I’m sure there will be some mixed emotions on the part of those who built this building with their own blood, sweat and tears. But I can’t imagine a better use for this property than what it’s going to be used for. 
Uniting Forces for a Common Cause
Ed Blake, executive director for the Salt Lake Valley Habitat for Humanity, said the partnership symbolizes a continuing legacy of giving people a place to call home—for cancer patients as well as families in need. It is definitely a cycle of charity and caring for the poor and needy that is befitting to a former house of the Lord. 
Throughout the summer, volunteers from local businesses will “harvest” still-usable materials—including carpet, metal bathroom stalls, sinks, toilets, doors, bathroom and light fixtures, crown and base molding, speakers and cabinets. Volunteers will also remove nails to either use in other projects or sell. Some of the maple wood from the church building will be used in the Hope Lodge. Construction on the lodge is set to begin in spring 2014. Habitat for Humanity will use the materials they glean to build homes as well as in the thrift store. 
Pam Higginson, regional vice president for the American Cancer Society, pitched the idea to the society’s board after learning of Habitat for Humanity’s need for materials, and the board approved the arrangement. She said that although the two charitable organizations have different goals, they were able to “combine forces to work toward a common cause.” 
NBCnews.com reported on the Colorado fires that raged earlier this month.
Two people have died in the 15,700-acre wildfire that has forced the evacuations of about 38,000 people in the Colorado Springs area, authorities said Thursday.
The bodies were found in the garage of a home in a heavily wooded area, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said at a news conference, adding that their car doors “were open as if they were loading,” he said.
“All evidence from the scene is they were planning on departing,” he said.
The Black Forest fire — one of three major blazes burning in the state — covered between 24 and 25 square miles and was only 5 percent contained, Maketa said. It had reduced 360 homes to cinders by (June 13, 2013)
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church), in Colorado were amidst the fires as well. Nearly 260 church members including young children were safely removed from the fire during a church campout when the natural disaster began.
Mormons in the Colorado Fires
Kevin C. Woodward, the local Stake President, (regional church authority), commented on this beginning of miracles. Deseret News reports:
According to Woodward, it was the first of a series of “little miracles” that saw several thousand Latter-day Saints living in the Colorado Springs area safely through a frightening week during which the Black Forest Fire has raged, killing two people and consuming more than 14,000 acres of land and destroying some 485 homes. Read more
You just never know when a natural disaster might occur. A flood, a tornado, a hurricane, or an earthquake could happen at any moment. Who can we look to for guidance during these moments?
As disciples of Jesus Christ, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [sometimes inadvertently called the “Mormon Church”] strive to follow the Savior’s admonition to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison. The Savior also taught that we are to love and care for each other and visit the fatherless and the widow in their afflictions (see LDS.org).
On Monday, May 20, 2013, a devastating tornado hit five American states, the worst of which was in Moore, Oklahoma. It took the lives of at least 24 people, 9 of which were children. It is during such a situation that we should all take a step back and send our love and prayers to those who have been so tragically affected.
In Oklahoma, members of The Church of Jesus Christ (nicknamed “Mormons”) are getting their “hands dirty” by rallying together to administer help to those in need. They didn’t decide that they would help out after the tornado hit—they decided a long time ago when they made a covenant (a two-way promise) with God at the time of their baptism to keep the two great commandments given by the Lord Jesus Christ — to love God with all their hearts and to love their neighbors as themselves. How are these Mormons helping? Read more
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the Mormon Church) place great value on involving themselves in their local communities. They believe in serving wherever they are and in reaching out to whomever they interact with. More prominent church members are no exception. In early May a group of women that included Olympian and World Cup skeleton champion Noelle Pikus-Pace and Paige Holland, wife of Utah Valley University president Matthew Holland and daughter-in-law to the Mormon apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, gathered together to participate in Habitat for Humanity. Read more
Mormons in Temecula, California spent a Saturday in the spring of 2013 sprucing up their local community. This is an annual event for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is part of the popular Mormon Helping Hands program. The program encompasses both emergency cleanup after disasters and also scheduled service projects that simply give back to the communities in which they live and worship.
Mormons Serve Temecula
The Temecula event took place at a variety of locations and non-Mormons were invited to join the efforts. One group worked to get Chaparral High School in shape following extensive budget cuts. Volunteers worked with the school’s principal to clean up the grounds for their upcoming graduation and were told the school had never looked nicer.
At the same time, other volunteers headed for Jacob’s House, a spiritual organization that serves as a hospitality house for families whose loved ones are in the nearby hospital. They were preparing for their upcoming open house and Mormon Helping Hands volunteers joined with other community volunteers to fix up the yard and gardens and to organize and clean the building. Read more
April 26, 2013 was one of the first really beautiful days of spring. Most people scheduled a day of playing, but nearly 5,300 volunteers Pennsylvania, Delaware, and portions of Maryland, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia chose to spend their Saturday at just under fifty state and local parks across the region to do repairs, clean-up, and improvements. The project was organized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as part of their Mormon Helping Hands program. Both states issued proclamations honoring Saturday in the Park events. More than 115 Mormon congregations were involved and they invited members of other faith groups and Scouting organizations to join them. Nearly 18,000 service hours were logged in, saving state and local governments thousands of dollars. Mormons initiated the project and began planning in November.
National Parks Week
Pennsylvania’s governor declared, “’Saturday in the Parks’ was created to recognize the crucial role that volunteers play in the maintenance and preservation of state and local parks throughout the Commonwealth.’” He commended those organizing the event, which is open to all volunteers, not just the Mormons who organized it and hoped it would encourage others to do similar events.
In Delaware, Mormons joined with Delaware Council of Faith-Based Partnership and Delaware State Parks to create events in conjunction with Delaware’s annual Week of Service.
Mormon is a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The parks initiative is part of the Mormon Helping Hands program, a grassroots program begun in 1998 that sends Mormons into their communities to do service projects on a regular basis and to help in clean-up efforts during emergencies. Volunteers wear yellow vests to help organizers keep track of the hundreds that typically show up for such events. Read more
The commitment to helping women and children worldwide was evident at a United Nations side event hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often mistakenly called the Mormon Church.
The LDS Church hosted the event in early March 2013 as part of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women.
Sharon Eubank, executive director of LDS Charities, began her remarks “talking about a humanitarian effort that predates LDS Charities. She spoke of the Salt Lake Valley [in Utah] in 1870, when inexperienced midwifery and home births contributed to a high infant mortality rate.” She said “a visionary woman named Eliza Snow” asked the territorial governor to send six women to the Eastern United States where they would be trained in medicine and then return to the territory and train others. He agreed. One of the women sent—Ellis Shipp—returned with a medical degree, and over her lifetime she “delivered 5,000 babies” and “trained 500 midwives to be certified and licensed.”
Eubank said the execution of Snow’s plan was the “beginning of the drop of the infant mortality rate in (Utah).” She summarized by saying “that work completed more than 150 years ago—by women who were poor and had many barriers—became the underpinnings of the work by LDS Charities today.”
“The work of Shipp has evolved into the modern-day work by LDS Charities on neonatal resuscitation training,” Eubank said. “There are more than 1 million infants every year that die of asphyxia.” Although many doctors have the skill to save these babies, they lack the equipment.
Dr. Dennis C. Hughes, an LDS humanitarian medical trainer, demonstrated some of the equipment and training given to medical professionals.
The event focused on more than infant mortality. “During the past quarter-century, the LDS Church has provided assistance to nearly 30 million people in 179 countries. This happened, Eubank said, because of those “who make the work of LDS charities possible on both a national and grass roots level.”
Ambassador Charles T. Ntwaagae, Botswana’s permanent representative to the United Nations, said that Botswana is one of the countries that has benefited for many years from the support of LDS Charities—“especially when it comes to wheelchair distribution.”
Ntwaagae expressed appreciation of his government and the people of Botswana for the support from LDS Charities. “This particular commitment has been very helpful in uplifting the lives of our vulnerable population, especially the women and children.”
“Later this year, Botswana will be among the first African countries to implement the newly released World Health organization wheelchair-training curricula. The multiyear effort between the Botswana Ministry of Health and LDS Charities trains physical therapists and technicians to properly fit wheelchair recipients and then provides a variety of mobility aids for distribution.”
Eubank noted the gender inequality of wheelchair distribution. Forty-five million people in the world need wheelchairs but don’t have access to them. Men and boys receive 70 percent of the wheelchairs. “When we distribute wheelchairs we look for partnering organizations that have a commitment to address this gender bias,” she said.
Eubank said in her opening remarks that “If women don’t have access to health care because the roads are too dangerous, if they are turned away from care because they are too poor or too disabled, if there is no equipment to save their newborn, if no one believes girls need wheelchairs—they are bullied by a societal structure that is so much bigger and meaner than they have power to fight.” Her concluding remarks linked back to those thoughts. She asked those in attendance to work with her and LDS Charities to “inoculate people at an early age against violence and the acceptance of violence because it is like a disease.”
“We can commit that we will speak and learn ourselves and then train eight other people by our personal example. We can find ways for inclusion and rehabilitation to bring people back into the mainstream of society. It is only in those skills that we have a clear road to be able to go forward in this way. It is important for every person in this room.”
This article was written by Paula Hicken, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Paula Hicken was an editor with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship from 2000 to 2013. She earned her BA degree in English from Brigham Young University. She edited Insights, the Maxwell Institute newsletter, and was the production editor for Faith, Philosophy, Scripture, Hebrew Law in Biblical Times (2nd ed.), Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture, and was one of the copy editors for Analysis of the Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon. She also helped manage the Maxwell Institute intellectual property and oversaw rights and permissions. She has published in the Ensign, the Liahona, the LDS Church News, and the FARMS Review.
On Friday morning, 8 February 2013, President Barack Obama called a special meeting in the White House in which President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, joined with 13 other faith leaders from around the United States to discuss the immigration policy.
“It was a very wonderful, warm meeting,” President Uchtdorf said during a telephone interview Friday afternoon. “Not everyone agreed with everything that was said, but we all agreed on the principles and values that have to govern any legislation on this issue.”
Those values, he said, include compassion, family cohesion, respect for law and common sense.
“We were a very small group, and so everyone had a chance to say their piece,” President Uchtdorf said. “The President was very warm and friendly, and seemed interested in what we had to say.” 
Throughout the course of the meeting the leaders expressed their concerns over the impact that the broken immigration system is having on families throughout their congregations. President Uchtdorf stated that as far as The Church of Jesus Christ is concerned, it is politically neutral. He further stated, “We won’t tell anyone how to vote, but we have interest in certain topics and issues, and immigration is something that touches so many lives in such personal ways.” 
The White House released a statement on the meeting, indicating that President Obama had reiterated his strong commitment to work with Congress in a bipartisan manner in order that a common-sense imigration reform bill would be passed in both houses, and sent to his desk expeditiously.
In 2011, The Church of Jesus Christ issued an official policy statement on immigration, in which it was noted that,
. . . .this issue is one that must ultimately be resolved by the federal government.
As a matter of policy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discourages its members from entering any country without legal documentation. . . .and it supports a balanced and civil approach to a challenging problem, fully consistent with its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family and its commitment to law. 
For the LDS Church, the statement underscored, “the bedrock moral issue … is how we treat each other as children of God.” As an immigrant to the United States from Germany, President Uchtdorf told the President and the faith leaders present, that he has strong and tender feelings on the subject of immigration.
“It is heartbreaking when you read some of the stories about how families are impacted by this issue,” he said. “It’s one thing for someone who has come to this country during the past year or so, when they knew they were coming here illegally. But there are people who have been here for 30 years or more, who came almost by invitation because they were needed and wanted to work in our fields and to perform certain labor. And now all of a sudden they are being told, ‘You have to leave. Your children may stay here but you have to leave or we will put you in prison.’”
He paused, then added, “Whether we are Christians or other faith groups, we focus on the human side. Yes, we should obey the law, but we need to take a look at how it impacts individuals and families.” 
President Uchtdorf further stated that how The Church of Jesus Christ is directly impacted by United States immigration policy is not the issue. The policy, he stated, has nothing to do with the organization of the Church, but it does have everything to do with individuals. Furthermore, the LDS Church cares about every member that is negatively impacted by the current policy. He stressed that we need to be of help and support in a moral way. He continued by stating that the LDS Church will not be directly involved in any legislation, “but we will make sure the values we stand for are clearly understood, and we hope that legislation will reflect those values.” 
As a result of the meeting, President Uchtdorf said, “I hope that a lot of the people who are thinking of this as a political issue will look more at the human side of this topic — that while they focus on enforcing the law, they also make sure that we are compassionate in our approaches and that we are strengthening our families in a common sense way.” 
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are often known as Mormons, have made a 200,000 dollar challenge donation to the Volunteers of America, to be used for their Adult Detoxification Center in Utah. Challenge donations mean the organization receiving the grant must raise a matching amount of money themselves. This type of grant motivates donors to provide more money, thus increasing the value of the donation. They have raised more than half the money already.
The detoxification center allows hospitals to transfer patients there instead of utilizing bed space in a hospital and also allows someone to go to the center instead of prison. They can receive more targeted assistance in an environment designed just for that purpose. Recipients have described the atmosphere as kind and supportive.
The Mormons have donated in-kind donations to the center in the past. The center is unable to receive meat, cheese, and produce from food banks and so the Mormons have donated those types of things from their storehouses. The Bishop’s storehouse is used to provide for the needy in their congregations but are also used to provide donations to other non-profits. The Mormons also donate wool blankets in the winter. This is the first time they have provided a challenge donation.
The grant will allow the center to remodel and add ten beds. There is a desperate need for those ten beds. In 2012, Utah had 88,251 adults and 12,189 children in need of treatment for drugs and alcohol. Only seventeen percent of those were able to be helped by public program. 83,414 people need help in Utah but are unable to receive it.
Mormons frequently seek out organizations within their local communities to serve, both in time and in materials donations. It is, for them, part of their God-give admonition to follow the example of Jesus Christ, who spent His ministry caring for others. He served His followers and He also served those who were not His followers. They look for ways to assist that will promote self-sufficiency an allow people to turn their lives around and to become everything they want to become.