My Personal Bishop’s Storehouse

Luke 10:31-32:   And by chance there came down a certain priest that way:  and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 

The recent devastation by tornadoes in Joplin, MO has reminded me  of one of the finest men I have ever known.  He once taught a lesson in a 5th Sunday combined Priesthood/Relief Society meeting.  He taught us that the bishop’s storehouse is not just the warehouse on the other side of town where people go to fill food orders.  He emphasized that the concept of the bishop’s storehouse extends to the food storage in the homes of each individual member.  In a time of disaster or emergency, the bishop can call upon members of the ward to share their food, warm clothing, blankets, and everything else they have with others.  I left that meeting with a strong conviction, confirmed by the spirit, that the wheat, canned goods, bottled fruit, frozen vegetables, powdered milk, dry beans, camp stove with propane, and everything else in our basement was a resource of the church to be used for the building of Zion, and to be shared as necessary with my neighbors, LDS or not.  A bishop’s storehouse exists wherever a latter-day saint practices provident living.  A few years later, we lived near the Gulf coast of the United States, and our city took a direct hit from a hurricane.  It wasn’t a devastating storm, but it did take down power lines and cause some minor flooding.  We were lucky.  Our power came back on in less than 24 hours.  I distinctly remember sitting at the table, sweating in the Louisiana Summer heat, reading with a flashlight, when the lights suddenly came back on and the air conditioner came to life.  It felt so good to go stand in front of the cool air, and to take a warm shower that night and go to sleep between clean sheets, in a cooled room.

For some reason, our neighbors weren’t so lucky.  Our end of the street had electricity, but most of the people on our block had to wait over a week before they had power.  No stove for cooking meals, no refrigerator, no freezer, no hot water for showers or laundry, no A/C.  During this week, my life was pretty normal.  I’d get up in the morning, shower and put on clean clothing, go to work, then go to the church and help with the work projects the church was organizing.  At night I would come home to a nice meal in a pleasant, climate-controlled house, and maybe have a dish of ice cream while watching a game on TV before going to bed.

I did this for at least a week, and felt pretty good about myself.  I was volunteering every day, didn’t that prove I was a good person?  But every day I would drive past my neighbors, and I don’t think I thought of them and their situation at all.  As I look back now, I am ashamed of myself, and wonder if that thoughtlessness is not perhaps my greatest sin against God.  Within 3 minutes of my front door I could have found 20 families who would have loved to have a hot meal, a cold, iced drink, a shower, an hour in an air-conditioned room, a place to do some laundry, and a quiet, cool room for a fussy baby to take a nap.  We could have used our storage and roasted the turkey which had been in the freezer for months.  I think we also had two large hams, and enough burgers and bratwurst for at least two big dinners.  It could have been a neighborhood party at the Browns, 24/7, but instead I chose my selfish, solitary existence and enjoyed my blessings all by my little self.  Our hymn asks, rhetorically, “How can I see another’s lack and I not share?”  Well, as it turns out, that is pretty easy to do for a schlub like me.

The missed opportunities make me sick to think about now.  Instead of reflecting the love and light of Christ to those around me, I reinforced to them the idea that LDS people are standoffish and smug, and a little bit too good to associate with lesser mortals.  This experience is one of my greatest regrets, and one for which I expect to be repenting for years to come. 

Matthew 25:40-43:  And the King shall answer and say unto them, 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.  Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:  For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:  I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

 

Comments

  1. can’t wait for this comment thread. (how will this go down with the many LDS folks i know who store arms and ammo to protect their storage from the ravening hordes. that may be somewhat worse [better?] than mere thoughtlessness.)
    also, does one need a major disaster in which to fail to share out of thoughtlessness? could one not daily find, or miss, an opportunity?

  2. home slice says:

    Give yourself credit Mark for recognizing an opportunity for compassionate service. Even if it’s in retrospect and becomes something to remember for future reference. So many people who may have passed through similar scenarios would have patted themselves on the back for being prepared and self sufficient, regardless of how much of their more favorable circumstances were the result of good fortune rather than
    exemplary providence.

  3. The missed opportunities make me sick to think about now.

    I wouldn’t beat myself up too badly about it. But that you caught a great idea out of all of this is awesome.

    As for helping others out, I am impressed with my fellow New Yorkers whenever there is a problem. There are many good caring people here who will help out the stranger in need. I think it is a great idea to focus our church theology even more on helping others.

  4. Steve Evans says:

    Mark, some wonderful thoughts here — perhaps the best thing about your post is the feeling that you want to do more and be more. I like that about you.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this, Mark, thanks.

  6. Your posts on subjects related to this always feel sincere, Mark. Thanks.

  7. Mark Brown says:

    Another thing that discomfits me about this experience is how willing I was to do whatever the church asked. I volunteered for every assignment that was announced. Nothing wrong with that, but it does demonstrate that I have a strong tendency to need to be commanded in all things, and that I should work on bringing to pass righteousness on my own, without being asked.

  8. ErinAnn says:

    A few years ago we had a huge storm here in Seattle. (80mph winds after a month of record rain.) It was a cold December and most everyone in the region was without power — homes, grocers, gas stations…everyone. We were horribly prepared and even our car had an empty tank. That meant we couldn’t drive the 125 miles to my parents warm house.

    We stayed one night “camping” with our child in the front room. Not pleasant. One of our neighbors called to ask how we were doing. She worked at a hotel and she and her husband were staying there (backup generators). There were no more rooms available, but when she heard we were trying to sleep in freezing temperatures she insisted that we borrow her car and drive to my parents house.

    We were so happy to have such generous neighbors.

  9. This is a very inspiring post for schlubs like me.

  10. Thank you, Mark. This is both touching and teaching, and I needed to hear it.

    We live in a classic, small, Mississippi River town, and the threat of flooding each year is real. We have been contemplating how to acquire our own adequate storehouse, given our economic situation and our storage limitations in a rental house. We are very fortunate to have a wonderful family member who is going to make it possible, and I really, really needed to read this post as we begin to do the acquiring.

    I had a bit of . . . concern (for lack of a better word) about spending so much money on something when there is such a real possibility that we will have to abandon it if our own town is flooded. I needed to be reminded that, ultimately, it’s not just about me and my family.

    Again, thank you.

  11. There is WAY too much focus on physical disasters and Armageddon scenarios.

    The most common use for food storage are the everyday bumps of life . . job loss, illness, divorce, death, etc.

    We need to pay attention to those around us all the time — not just when the tornado or river rolls through the neighborhood.

    Today, I became aware that a single lady with five children was short on food. I put together a box for her: pasta, sauces, salad dressing and Parmesan cheese and combined it with fresh produce. She was grateful — said she could now take care of her family for a few days.

    Preparing for these kinds of issues means storing food your family actually eats (not freeze-dried inedible stuff). It can be done whether you are a renter or homeowner. Best of all, you’ll save money.

  12. On a hot day in 2008, some missionaries and I saw an old man fall down on a sidewalk near some housing projects. We helped him up and when we discovered he was senile and couldn’t talk, we just let him go, figuring someone who knew him would find him soon. It turns out that a woman in our ward, who is not generally thought much of, found him and spent two hours canvasing the projects until she found someone who recognized him. She also gave him water. You are right to feel guilty, as I do. It isn’t any fun to find yourselves playing the wrong part in one of the savior’s stories.

  13. Paul 2: you’re right about it not being fun to find yourself playing the wrong part in one of the Savior’s stories–but that’s the point of the stories. People who don’t find themselves playing the wrong part are either not reading the stories or are expecting translation at any moment.

  14. It's Not Me says:

    We were ignored by our ward when we had a major disaster a few years ago. Posts like this remind me of a commitment I made to myself to be mindful of others’ need of help. I think my commitment has faded (though nobody around here has had the kind of disaster we did; we need to not focus only on disasters, but the other things as mentioned above).

  15. I’m a mother of four. We try to invite people over to our house to share a meal. It requires a great deal of effort. It can be stressful. I fed the missionaries last minute a few days ago. I said, sure, no big deal….we can make it work. But we had a busy week and my husband has a job and I am taking care of our children and there were so many other things going on. The day after we fed the missionaries we had to call and cancel another service we had hoped to perform because the weight of everything going on and we knew something had to give.
    So while I am happy we fed the missionaries and it was something we could totally do, it did mean that we ended up having to drop something else equally good, otherwise we were risking our mental health/marriage/ability to parent and raise our children.
    It is good to reevaluate and realize ways that we can be better, or serve better. We should use them as learning experiences to be better in the future but not spend too much time second guessing that our best wasn’t good enough in the past.

  16. Andrew H says:

    Thank you for posting this, it is a wonderful and timely reminder of the true meaning of Welfare Services. President Kimball stressed the need for personal, individual service and reminded us that institutional Church service is not enough. I like the way Rachel Naomi Remen put it, true service has “our finger prints on it.”

    I had a Bishop much like the the person Mark describes as teaching the 5th Sunday lesson. He would emphasize that because of our covenants, we are all the “Bishop’s Storehouse.” Several times when people were in need (member or non) instead of sending them off to the local brick and mortar “storehouse” for a little” institutional” service, he would ask members of the ward to contribute food, goods, and money directly for the support of those in need. It was a wonderful, uniting experience for the Ward.

    “It’s not me” I’m sorry for what happened to you. I’ve been in Wards like that too, it’s sad to think that some areas are that way. The Ward I am in now is wonderful. They found out we were moving in before we arrived. On the day we moved in we all ready had home and visiting teachers. So many people showed up to help us move in we could not keep them all busy. A lady with no family in the area was moving in across the street from us at the exact time we were moving in. She is not LDS (she’s a Seventh Day Adventist and now one of our good friends) but that did not matter to the Ward members. She was short on help, the Ward members saw a need, and everyone who was not needed at our house went over and helped move her in. Our move in was over with so fast that most everyone was able to go across the street and help before long. It was a great experience.

    Recently my car died on my way to work. Members of our Ward found out and by mid-afternoon we had offers for food and assistance. I don’t mean to brag, our Ward is far from perfect, but it is amazing too see what can happen when folks really take the idea of being their brothers keeper to heart.

  17. #11 good points, Steve. Keeping a couple cartons of canned goods from Costco/case sales means I always have something on hand when the Scouts et al. come around for food drives. It also rotates the stocks.

  18. I have always thought something was fundamentally wrong-headed about the typical Mormon food storage fanatics. Mark Brown hits on what I think is my problem. In every little crisis, I have noticed that people (LDS or not) appear out of the wood work and come together to help each other. The assumptions of the food storage program seems to run counter to this with my family planning on surviving alone against rest of the world. Or perhaps the church will survive while the rest of the world burns.

    Once we realize that disasters are opportunities, not to take advantage of others, but to actually demonstrate our Christian charity by acts of kindness, then a whole different perspective on disaster preparedness emerges.

    We are usually not in this alone. In addition to storing supplies, we need to “store up” flexible communication networks so that needs are identified and resources can be brought to where they are useful. A ward or neighborhood approach to preparation might be more effective than everyone trying to store enough for only themselves. I could store barrels of water while the next person stores sacks of grain.

    In Little Cottonwood canyon sat an abandoned power plant. Several years ago my retired father was snooping around up there and discovered that these old inefficient but huge generators remained in near working condition. He told me that all he needed was a stream of water flowing through a channel blocked by a gate and he could be generating enough power for a small town in a few hours. He lives within long walking distance of the power plant. In a pinch it would be nice to know this and I presume a thousand other people with expertise that would be useful in a crisis.

    Mark has effected a subtle but definitely improved perspective on food storage. Our circle of compassion extends beyond the ward to the rest of the community. Thank you.

  19. Thanks for writing this, Brother Mark.

  20. michelle says:

    Thanks for this post, Mark. I’ve been thinking lately of this aspect of preparedness. It reminds me of when our stake leaders had us fill out an inventory of the supplies and skills we had with regard to emergency preparedness. In my mind, the message was that our efforts to be prepared were not just personal, but communal. It’s affected how I look at and feel about my food storage and my own personal preparations. It also helps me feel not quite so alone in the effort — that maybe I don’t need to have every last skill figured out, because as a community, if we come together, we could help each other tackle a lot.

    I also liked this thought by Bonnie Parkin (adapt as appropriate if you are male ;)] :

    The Lord’s Storehouse—where ‘there is enough and to spare’—is [symbolically] what the Lord has placed in each of us (D&C 104:17). It is one woman making a difference for another. It is one sister offering to listen or talk with a sister who may be lonely. It is a sister developing a close friendship with the sister she visit teaches. It is you and me with our strengths, our skills, and our talents blessing the life of another”
    (“Welfare, the Crowning Principle of a Christian Life,” BYU Women’s Conference, May 1, 2003, 3).

  21. 5gr8kdz says:

    Twenty years ago we were living in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Hugo hit the island. Although our home received minimal damage and we had stored water and such, we did not have electricity or running water for about three days. On day two My neighbor’s electricity came back on and that evening she showed up at our doorstep with two glasses of ice water. Twenty years later I still remember how wonderful that cold drink tasted on a hot, Caribbean, summer evening with no air conditioning or even a fan to help cool you down. Thank you, my dear neighbor and thoughtful friend.

  22. I have long thought that one of the main purposes of food storage and other emergency preparedness was for blessing others. A few well-stocked Latter-day Saint homes could be a tremendous blessing to a community in disaster, a literal life-saver.

    My husband and I keep 72 hour kits in our cars. We’ve had to replenish the contents but never because we personally used them. When someone approaches us in a gas station or parking lot asking for help, we open the trunk and give them some food and water. It might sound selfish to say so, but I like the feeling that we’ve done something good for someone else. Those are the times I feel most “Christian.”

  23. Glenn Smith says:

    The Law of Consecration at work…..
    I see storage as preparedness for any service opportunity or calamity, wether it be job loss, natural disaster and even civil breakdown. I am ready to respond to a Bishop’s call for supplies, to share with neighbors, and to defend the supples with force from those who would steal. It’s not one type of need over the other, it’s being prepared for any type of disruptive event.

    Our stake and ward (5th Sunday instruction) are doing excellent sessions on preparedness.

  24. My patriarchal blessing says to prepare a storehouse because people would come to my home in need. I have a fair amout of food storage but no one has come to my home asking for food. Thhis post makes me think that maybe I have been blind to the needs, just waiting for the big disaster to strike. I need to be more aware.

  25. This is such a cool post Mark.

    In a time of disaster or emergency, the bishop can call upon members of the ward to share their food, warm clothing, blankets, and everything else they have with others.

    At first blush, this seems like a truly revolutionary way of thinking about this — and one can easily imagine that large proportion of Latter-day Saints who are mingling tea party or other rhetoric with the Gospel would bristle at this and perhaps even reject it on politically ideological grounds.

    But in thinking a little more about it, I think it is safe to say that the majority of Mormons would be willing and eager to contribute from their food storage at their Bishop’s request — they just don’t know it yet.

    I loved comment # 13:

    Paul 2: you’re right about it not being fun to find yourself playing the wrong part in one of the Savior’s stories–but that’s the point of the stories. People who don’t find themselves playing the wrong part are either not reading the stories or are expecting translation at any moment.

    That’s a hard realization. I think an argument can definitely be made that we as Latter-day Saints are not humble enough to realize this.

  26. Mark, thanks for this. Not too many years ago, our subdivision had seven power outages in a year, and we were often the recipients of the kindness of friends and neighbors (in and out of the church). When I finally got my generator, the structural problems in our sub were solved and the power outages have all but stopped for us. But it has made me sensitive t what you describe in your post.

    It’s good to be reminded.

  27. Glenn Smith says:

    If I can do this without bragging too much, see the article “The Good Samaritans In Coutts” in the April 2004 Ensign / Liahona magazines. During this May 2003 storm, I and my sons were on our way back from tending our own animals on the edge of town, when we saw a small herd of cows driven down the road by the blowing snow. We were able to turn them into our pasture and feed them. As luck would have it , our truck got stuck on the way home. Following several phone calls, we located the owner. The nest morning , he and a freind showed up with a large tractor to plow the road home for his cows. The freind pulled our truck to a safe spot. A service tendered, a service returned. Then , following a familiar pickup loaded with hay, the cows were led home. During the cow affair, the rest of the ward were busy serving the bus passengers and others who needed shelter.

  28. lindberg says:

    Oddly enough, this concept is right there in the Church Handbook:

    6.1.3 The Lord’s Storehouse
    In some locations the Church has established buildings called bishops’ storehouses. When members receive permission from their bishop, they may go to the bishops’ storehouse to obtain food and clothing. But the Lord’s storehouse is not limited to a building used to distribute food and clothing to the poor. It also includes Church members’ offerings of time, talents, compassion, materials, and financial means that are made available to the bishop to help care for the poor and needy. The Lord’s storehouse, then, exists in each ward. These offerings are “to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, … every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 82:18–19). The bishop is the agent of the Lord’s storehouse.

    I think we could probably do a better job of getting this message out and reiterating it during discussions about preparedness.

  29. Meldrum the Less says:

    If you must store food, do it right. (A personal testimonial on food storage.)

    As the EQP in a military ward who moved more than 150 families, many with tons of food storage, I often asked myself, why were we moving all of this food around when it would be cheaper and easier to leave it and buy more at the next base? Because our moving committee motto was “strong backs and weak minds.”

    In 1999 the potential Y2K crisis provided us a convenient excuse to buy about $4000 worth of food storage from the church cannery that we might actually eat and we had the money at the time with no plans to move. After that we developed a small chronic rat problem but it seemed under control.

    In 2003 rats chewed through a flexible steel hot water pipe to our dishwasher while we were away for 3 weeks at Christmas. The basement filled multiple feet deep in hot water with an amazing variety of molds growing everywhere, some of which were toxic species, especially to my wife who has severe asthma. The back up furnace in the attic was going full throttle from moisture damage to the controls and the house was probably 120 F. Everything in the basement had to be removed, down to the cement and joists which were sand blasted and painted. On the main floor 5 of 7 rooms were destroyed by water and mold. Upstairs had some mold, steam buckling of many walls and ruined carpets.

    We opted to stay there without a kitchen for 9 months and without central heat for the rest of the winter. Our insurance paid about 70K and we paid over 20K to get things back in order. I did most of the labor over the next three years because I didn’t like the slop artist insurance company contractors.

    The precious food storage was covered with toxic mold. Paper labels molded. Some shelves tipped over. The basement was infested with hundreds of rats feasting and pooping on our stored food. These rats chewed through any and every plastic or aluminum container. Glass bottles were pushed off shelves and broken. They even chewed through the rubber seals of the freezer which had quit anyway and gorged themselves on all of that rotting food. Rats climbed up through our walls and chewed through wood or drywall to raid the kids’ Halloween candy caches and the food in the kitchen. They also damaged electric wires far from the basement and there is still one circuit I can not seem to fix. Only steel cans deterred them. More than one exterminator failed as I fought the damned rats for months. (My successful formula was 16 steel traps, no food in the house to attract them, except a new kind of bait in new places every day.)

    I personally think it is pure folly to store large quantities of food where the winters are not cold enough to control the outdoor feral rat population. You will need water within a day while you can fast for a couple of weeks in a pinch. Yet who has months and years of water safely stored? Rats can chew through any plastic. You would need multiple small stainless steel tanks, one big tank would probably get contaminated quickly. You would have to rotate the water constantly to keep it fresh. In most disasters the amount of cash that it would cost to buy your food storage would be far more flexible and useful than the food. If you must, then store food only in steel cans! Rather than guns and ammunition I would suggest a small herd of almost starving cats to guard the food, except my wife is allergic to them too.

  30. Who will second my nomination of Meldrum the Less as head script writer for the remake of “Willard”?

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