|Print | Back||November 29, 2012|
In The VillagePoor in Spirit
by Orson Scott Card
Our bishop got a call a few days before Thanksgiving. A total stranger had gotten his cellphone number from the bishop’s storehouse. “My three children and I don’t have anything to eat!”
But the bishop was at work. When the woman called back after five p.m., her story had changed. Now she had five children, and she wanted cash, not food. Nor had she the slightest idea of what the Church was, or any intention of doing any work in return for the cash.
When you’re a steward of welfare funds, you have to be reasonably alert to obvious scams. The woman with a poor memory for how many children she had was referred to the shelters and welfare sources available in the community. No cash changed hands.
Then, on Thanksgiving eve, our bishop got another call. This time it was from a ward member whose husband was working in Alabama; the family had been separated for months, trying to sell their house in Greensboro so they could reunite.
“Paul’s car broke down in Georgia,” she said. “What can we do?” There was no way she could pack up their three children in the car she was using and go get him.
Our bishop imagined Paul, a member in good standing, calling the local bishop in Georgia. Would he sound like that woman who was scamming? So our bishop looked up the ward nearest to Paul’s location.
There was no phone number listed for the bishop. The only number he could find was for the family history center.
It happened that the man on duty at that number was the high priests group leader. Our bishop explained Paul’s situation. “We’ve got this,” said the man.
By the time the connection was made, Paul had spent a very cold night in his non-functional car. The high priests group leader found him on Thanksgiving morning, got his car towed to a trusted service station, and then he and his wife added him to their very full table for Thanksgiving dinner.
After dinner, the couple decided their older car just wasn’t reliable enough to make the drive to Greensboro and back again. So they handed Paul the keys to their new car, the one with only six thousand miles on it. Paul made it home before dark.
The next day, while Paul was enjoying the delayed visit with his family, the high priests group leader in Georgia talked to the garage owner. When he heard the story, the garage owner charged only for parts; the labor was his contribution.
When Paul got back to Georgia and returned the borrowed car, his own vehicle was fixed and ready to go back on the road.
Back in the 1970s, after reading Leonard Arrington’s wonderful Great Basin Kingdom, I wrote a play about the Rag Mission. In 1861, Salt Lake businessman George Goddard was called on a mission by Brigham Young — go travel throughout the Mormon colonies, encouraging people to donate old rags to be made into paper to print the Deseret News.
For three years, without purse or scrip, he carried a basket on one arm and an empty sack on the other, knocking on doors and preaching in every ward and branch. By the end of his mission he had gathered more than a hundred thousand pounds of rags.
He learned a lot of things about the Church. He told Brigham Young that he was worried about the wealthy members of the Church. “People in fine houses seem to have very little to share with a rag man. Maybe a bit of bread at the back door.
“But the poor are doing fine,” he reported. “They always seem to have room at their table for a rag missionary, with plenty to spare for the hungry stranger. And there’s always a warm place for him to sleep.”
The Savior said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and I think this is what he was talking about. The poor understand what need is, and have compassion. Our job is to make sure that we never forget that, even in prosperity, and share with others as freely as if we were still poor.
The high priests group leader and his wife have a newish car; but they are also the kind of people who adopt handicapped children. They had a houseful at Thanksgiving, but there was room at their table for the stranger with a broken-down car.
Whatever their actual bank balance, they have not forgotten what is means to be poor. They have kept that humility. They are not too good to share what they have with a stranger.
They take quite literally the idea that “ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
Paul was never among strangers, was he?
We all come into this world in poverty. Even if our parents have plenty, we are born naked and unable to care for ourselves; we depend on the charity of others.
It is so easy for some to forget that we were all dependent once; but it is just as easy for others to remember, and to remain poor in spirit.
The poor in spirit own nothing. In their hearts, it all belongs to God, though they have the use of some of the world’s goods for a little while. Thus they feel it a duty and a pleasure to share what the Lord has given them with others who might, at the moment, need it more.
It is the poor in spirit who put the keys of their new car, not the old one, in the hands of the new-met friend to speed him on his way home.
It is the poor in spirit who does his best mechanical work on a car belonging to someone he hasn’t even met, and charges nothing for his time and expertise, because he remembers what it is to be in need.
For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare....
Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment (D&C 104:17-18).
Nevertheless, says the Lord, he has “given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves” (D&C 104:17). He does not take from the rich; he asks the rich to give freely to those in need. “Behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints” (104:16).
When we open our eyes and our hearts, the Lord shows us where and how to share what he has entrusted to our care. “It is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine” (104:15).
We can be his hands in this work, if we remain poor in spirit, owning nothing, but holding all things as stewards of God, who is the true owner of all.
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