Last month I visited the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, begun by Mother Theresa in 1952 in Calcutta, India. A permanent exhibit on her life and work among the poor recounts her efforts to provide care and to enlist others in doing the same.
In response to those who expressed discouragement when faced with the multitude of hungry, ill and needy, Mother Theresa emphasized caring for the individual and according dignity to every human life.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is an example of that philosophy. The Samaritan came upon a man who lay suffering along the road to Jericho, having been attacked by robbers. Though others had passed by without offering aid, the Samaritan interrupted his journey to care for one in need, binding his wounds and taking him to an inn.
Too often we find ourselves overwhelmed with the world’s problems. We read so much of poverty, hunger, war and cruelty that we feel helpless to respond. There seems to be no solution to the challenges, yet we feel the need to reach out to other people and ease their suffering.
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The world’s great religions emphasize the responsibility to care for the vulnerable — whether the unborn, the old, the poor, the diseased or disabled, or the refugee. The prophet Isaiah of the Old Testament rebuked those who abuse others, who “beat God’s people to pieces” and “grind the faces of the poor.” (Isaiah 3:15)
More familiar to many is the admonition of Jesus Christ to his followers that they minister to the hungry, the thirsty, the lost, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. (Matthew 25:35-40)
That clearly falls within the commandment to love one another.
From conception to death, we all are vulnerable at one time or another, and rely upon one another for survival. Babies need parents; the sick need doctors; the elderly need caretakers; refugees need a home; and the lonely need a community. The call to serve the weak and helpless among us applies to everyone.
Some situations may lend themselves to a community effort. A March 29 article in the Statesman described the response to a Salvation Army request for assistance at its Center of Hope in Charlotte, N.C. During long-needed renovations of its kitchen, the shelter’s stoves and refrigerators were not available, and it was faced with the possibility of serving only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for eight days.
Emergency support from restaurants, catering services, food trucks and churches provided meals for approximately 400 shelter residents, nearly half of them children. Major Larry Broome, area commander for The Salvation Army, described the effort as “a grass-roots project involving individuals and small groups who came together and made a big difference.”
Care for others need not come only after a disaster or in extraordinary circumstances. It can take many forms, as different and individual as the people in our community.
We all, at some time, find ourselves in need of help in one form or another. We may not be refugees or homeless, but there are many other situations in which we may need a helping hand. We may need a kind word or a listening ear. A ride to an appointment or help with child care. A meal during illness or a walk shoveled following a snowstorm.
All these needs, and more, exist within our community. Many are in our neighborhood or family.
We may not be able to solve the world’s problems, but we can make a difference as we reach out and serve in our own way. Helping those who can’t help themselves is the essence of a life devoted to God.
Glenna M. Christensen is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.