He Went About Doing Good

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "He Went About Doing Good" in the book To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson.)

Thomas S. Monson’s introduction to the Church’s welfare program came ten years before he was called as a bishop. He was twelve years old, a new deacon, when his bishop asked him to take the sacrament to a bedfast brother who longed for that blessing. On that sunny morning, Tommy didn’t mind the three-quarter-mile walk down the street and across the railroad tracks to the modest residence. He knocked at the kitchen door and heard a feeble voice say, “Come in.” He uncovered the sacrament for Brother Wright, who was so weak that he needed to ask Tommy to place the bread in his trembling hand and press the cup of water to his lips. Recognizing the overwhelming gratitude of Brother Wright, Tommy felt “the spirit of the Lord” in the room, and he recognized that he “stood on sacred ground.”

Brother Wright asked him to “stay awhile,” and the elderly man proceeded to bear his testimony: “Tommy, this Church is divine. The love which the members have one for another is an inspiration.” He then talked of the Relief Society president, Sister Balmforth. “Do you know what she did one week many years ago?” he asked. “She took her little red wagon, went to members’ homes and gathered a jar of peaches here, a can of vegetables there, and brought to my cupboard shelves the food that sustained me.” Brother Wright cried as he told of the experience and “described watching the Relief Society president walk away from his home, pulling behind her, over the bumpy railroad tracks, the red wagon of mercy.”

Welfare to President Monson has always been about filling the “red wagon” with whatever is needed: food, clothing, friendship, or personal attention. The welfare plan “would never succeed on effort alone,” he has attested, “for this program operates through faith after the way of the Lord.”

The Monsons’ stake president, Harold B. Lee, had launched a welfare program in the Pioneer Stake before being tapped by President Heber J. Grant to organize the effort for the whole Church. In 1932, at the bottom of the Great Depression, President Lee and his counselors, Charles S. Hyde and Paul C. Child, met in the stake building just next door to the Sixth-Seventh Ward chapel and made plans to help the people of their stake. They had cause to be concerned: Fifty percent of the members in their eight wards and one branch were unemployed, including high councilors and bishops. (The Monson family was not among them.) “In those early days,” President Lee would later explain, “we set out not knowing where to go; we knew we had to go somewhere because we had reached rock bottom.”

Bishop Monson would begin bishopric and ward council meetings with a pertinent scripture to center everyone’s thinking on their duties. One of his favorites was: “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great. Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.”

Bishop Monson became known—and loved—for his heart and willing mind, as expressed in the attention he paid to the welfare of the people in his congregation. He has said, “I always considered myself as a bishop who erred on the side of generosity; and if I had it to do again, I would be even more generous.”

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