Practicing What We Preach: Ministering Charity Globally


Today’s Guest Post comes from Dr. Warner Woodworth. He is a Global Social Entrepreneur and Professor Emeritus of the Department of Management at the Marriott School of Business, Brigham Young University where he designed and taught the first U.S. courses in Microcredit and Social Entrepreneurship.

Did you enjoy General Conference in October? Reflecting back today, I feel more strongly than ever that Conference was a blessing to me, and I hope my friends within and beyond the LDS Church had similar experiences.

In the weeks before and since Conference I’ve labored among the poor, refugees and the disenfranchised in the Middle East, Croatia, upstate New York, Romania, Native American reservations, and just returned two days ago from Indonesia. Abundant conference themes that stood out to me included an emphasis on faith, hope and charity. I especially was inspired by President Russell M. Nelson’s Sunday talk in the morning session as he emphasized our mission as Latter-day Saints to serve the poor and reduce human suffering.

For decades, I’ve had the privilege of praying, fasting and then reaching out to global families who struggle to make ends meet. From those spiritual promptings through the years, my family, students, friends, business associates and others have had the capacity to make change, empower the poorest, and see how economic self-reliance can be developed around the globe. In parallel with the church, but working independently, we’ve been able to see humanity’s needs, design social innovations and make a difference. Collectively, we have launched private NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) consisting of 41 development organizations operating in 62 countries. We’ve been blessed to recruit wealthy donors, passionate students, committed housewives and school teachers, generous entrepreneurs, and more. Much of our work has grown in parallel with the church’s charities over the decades. We’ve never asked or taken a dollar from church headquarters because I always wanted us to be independent and radically innovative. But there have been degrees of mutual learning from each other.

In his talk, President Nelson reminded church members of the origins of LDS humanitarianism. I was privileged to help establish these during and after several church-wide fasts that secured over $11 million to save lives in East Africa. Back then in the 1980s, I sat in council with general authorities in inviting Catholic Relief Services leaders from Washington, DC to travel to Salt Lake City and advise us on how their great charity operates so we could establish our own nonprofit soon after. It was a unique experience to see the Brethren sit in a LDS boardroom with their yellow note pads writing down the experience and advice from Catholic priests who had been doing (NGO) non-governmental organization development from a religious perspective over many decades. They drew from Catholic Social Teaching, concepts I have taught in my Marriott School MBA courses and used in my personal life and efforts to build a better economy for decades. From that and other meetings, prayer and fasting, the church soon launched its own LDS Humanitarian Fund so we could better manage and oversee contributions of food, medicine, and more.

Beyond those early years, we gradually experimented and became more deeply involved in doing “much good,” the very definition of the word, “Mormon.” I next began to call for the creation of our own charity, and eventually Latter-day Saint Charities was established through President Gordon B. Hinckley. All told, the saints have since contributed some $2 billion to assist those in need.

President Nelson’s words on Sunday in October were like many in a long line of prophetic voices throughout the restoration.

Joseph Smith sought equality for all, declaring “it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin (D&C 49:20).

John Taylor preached that we should become “co-adjutors and co-laborers” with God and humanity.

Brigham Young declared: “For the lack of opportunity (people) are not able to develop the talents and ability that are within them. This is the condition of the peoples of most of the nations of the earth….Jesus requires, absolutely requires, of us to take these people who have named through baptism, and teach them how to live, and how to become healthy, wealthy, and wise. This is our duty.”

And Brigham Young’s counselor George Q. Cannon thundered that “The time has come when the talents of the men of business shall be used to benefit the whole people…not for individual benefit alone, nor for individual aggrandizement alone, but…to uplift the masses.”

President Nelson, today’s 2019 prophet, builds on these earlier declarations.  So I loved the message of President Nelson: “When we love God with all our hearts, He turns our hearts to the well-being of others in a beautiful virtuous cycle.” Also: “Our greatest joy comes as we help our brothers and sisters, no matter where we live.”

The Prophet pointed out that Latter-day Saints who love God are those who look for ways to love, help, and lift other people, near or far. They seek to live both the first and the second great commandments. He also mentioned that often world leaders express their thanks for the church’s humanitarian efforts, and hope for the church to become established or continue in their nations, feeling that Latter-day Saints will help strengthen communities and improve society. Then he stated to church members, “You are the ones who make all this possible. Because of your exemplary lives, your generous hearts and your helping hands, it is no wonder that many communities and government leaders are praising your efforts.”

I appreciated his citation from the United Nations that today one in nine people worldwide face hunger, and he thanked members for their generosity which supplies food, water, wheelchairs, newborn care, refugee aid, and much more in efforts to combat this sobering statistic.

Church humanitarian outreach was launched in 1984 to help drought-stricken eastern Africa, which began with raising millions for those who suffer, none of whom were of our faith back then, with much more funding given since in global assistance. He said that “This assistance is offered to recipients regardless of their Church affiliation, nationality, race, sexual orientation, gender or political persuasion.” Also, that this is in addition to the fast-offering assistance for LDS members and more than a hundred bishops’ storehouses filling 400,000 food orders annually.

Over the years Church humanitarian initiatives have helped provide clean water in hundreds of communities in 76 countries, while millions of pounds of clothing are collected at Deseret Industries outlets each year, with the greatest portion donated to other charitable organizations for global distribution.

The annual numbers are impressive, said the Prophet: “In 2018, the Church provided emergency supplies to refugees in 56 countries, vision care for 300,000 in 35 countries, newborn care for thousands of mothers and infants in 39 countries and wheelchairs for more than 50,000 in dozens of nations. Also last year, the Church carried out more than 100 disaster-relief projects worldwide….Living that second great commandment is the key to becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ.”

I also rejoice in the many travels of President Nelson as he traverses the globe, especially as a 95 year-old leader. Having made the long flight to New Zealand myself recently, President Nelson’s trip to Auckland in meeting with Imams of the Christchurch mosques after they were attacked by a gunman struck me greatly. They spoke of their shared commitment to religious freedom, and President Nelson offered help ($100,000) with rebuilding their damaged mosques. He also mentioned being in Buenos Aires where he saw thankful members and non-members in Argentina who were provided wheelchairs from church charities. Another trip included his visit to a congregation in West Africa, where members had few material possessions, but nevertheless provided a surplus of fast offerings to those in need elsewhere. Once again, he said he learned about the law and spirit of fasting from these members’ generosity and obedience.

In recent months, President Nelson has also met with the king of Tonga, Tupou VI, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of NZ, Reverend Amos C. Brown, a civil rights activist and Baptist pastor in California, Reverend Theresa Deer of the NAACP conference in Detroit where he spoke, and Colombian President Iván Duque. I liked the fact that after the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris, he sent a letter of sympathy to the pope. He also addressed the 110th annual national convention of the NAACP in Detroit where he spoke about lifting one another as brothers and sisters and how we are all children of God.

As our leader in the early 2000s, President Thomas S. Monson also raised the community service bar for us as Latter-day Saints by declaring that the church would now have a new Fourth Mission, in addition to saving the dead, preaching the gospel and perfecting the Saints. Speaking to the Twelve and all Seventies as the new church president in 2009 he declared that serving the poor and needy was a major new emphasis: “Who have you rescued? That is your calling as Latter-day Saints.”…“Today, in lands far away…there are those who suffer hunger, who know want and are acquainted with poverty. Ours is the opportunity and the sacred privilege to relieve this hunger, to meet this want, to eliminate this poverty.”

Currently, in my mind, I can see a clear line of social justice running throughout LDS history. It goes from President Nelson today to President Joseph F. Smith a century ago, and further back to Joseph himself. Said J.F. Smith: “It was the doctrine of Joseph Smith…that a religion which has not the power to save people temporally and make them prosperous and happy here, cannot be depended upon to save them spiritually, to exalt them in the life to come.”

Hopefully, today we as a people in the 21st Century will have the faith and the moral courage, to reach out to lift those who struggle around the earth.

*Photo by POOYAN ESHTIAGHI on Unsplash



  1. I would ask as humbly and as kindly as I know how that you contact Dr. David Heiden concerning his work during the same time and the same place. The LDS Church was approached to help during that time and declined. He can also explain to you work done with Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Charity,

    You can read more about David Heiden’s recent work here:

  2. I will also ask that you take time to contact Dr. Yasin Al-Qubati about his work with leprosy patients in Yemen. This work was also never funded.…-a0247801940

  3. Some people are never happy. Frankly they’ll not be happy until the gospel is destroyed. I applaud and while heartedly support the church in they efforts!

  4. Thank you, Brother Woodworth! This is a powerful, encouraging message. May it be taken to the hearts of all who have the will to extend the Church’s influence for good.

  5. This is a nice piece but it’s really hard to read as anything but a defense of the church and its 100B without explicitly addressing the elephant in the room. Begs the question of whether this charitable work has been enough in comparison to what’s been hoarded—and why only certain people such as the poster have been privy to some of the inside workings of tithing distributions rather than making that information more widely available.

  6. Elisa,
    How much is enough and who exactly is going to answer the question? If you want to know who decides how monies are handled, D&C 120 provides the answer. FYI, given the size of the institution and its clearly stated goals, $100 billion in reserves does not strike me as an enormous amount. This is not a hoard of wealth to be used for riotous living by a few individuals. It is for emergencies in a volatile world. It is only $6000 per member. I have expectations that the church will do its best to maintain these reserves, especially as it expands its footprint in the Third World.

  7. Old Man, you’ll find ample threads and discussions on those questions on this and other sites. My point was only that publishing this piece right now without ever addressing head-on the issue of the 100B strikes me as intentionally evasive. I am curious about and open to the author’s view given his insight into how the process has worked as he has observed it.

  8. please stop repeating that $100B is $6k per member of the Church. We are all capable of simple math. and besides that, most members are inactive so at 50% activity the number rises to $12k. And most tithing is paid by adults, not children. So it’s probably closer to $20k per adult active member. See, it’s more complicated than simple math.

  9. I guess the simplest fact of all is that it’s the Lord’s money, and he administers it as he wishes. If one doesn’t like/believe that, they are free not to participate. I do believe, participate, and think the wisdom displayed is a fantastic repudiation of man’s philosophies. Maybe the loyal opposition (anti’s) are just angry that another point of supposed leverage has been rendered moot.

  10. Elisa, I don’t know what Warner Woodworth intended, but I believe there is a way to read his piece somewhat differently. Taking as given (but unspoken) all of the criticisms you make, I read it as a reminder that the church has a strong foundation for doing great things, and as a word of encouragement to all concerned that we aim higher.

  11. I get weirded out by the ‘He administers it (the money) as he wishes..’ ideology. Do you believe Jesus is really sitting in a meeting, making financial decisions with the brethern? And is this a new thing? Or did he also lead the church into debt in the bad years?

  12. I guess we can all play argumentum ad absurdum. No, I don’t think there’s a special meeting room. I believe he guides through inspiration and education. Line upon line. The church had to learn that being broke makes the work nearly impossible in this day and age. To their credit, they transformed and they have been wise stewards. They are also learning that it is impossible to satisfy the critics, whose real goal isn’t resolving “problematic issues”, but to destroy the church and gospel.

  13. I lived in the same neighborhood as Warner Woodworth several years ago, and while I cannot speak for him, I CAN say that his voice has consistently pleaded and asked for more charitable giving to those in need (over several decades). If anything, I read this piece with an optimistic tone for more giving in the future, as opposed to the tone of a church-apologist, self-congratulating for what has already been given.

  14. Have any of you read Kathleen Flakes take on these issues?

  15. josh h,
    I’d like to thank you for using simple math to address this issue. No, $20,000 per tithe paying adult is still not a lot of money and it is still rather uncomplicated. As Professor Flake notes, it has nothing to do with tax law, and more to do with some being upset because “this is a power struggle, not a moral or even fiscal conundrum, and one that we’ve seen before from those who don’t understand Mormonism and how it handles its money.”

  16. “The church had to learn that…” This is what I believe. We probably aren’t that far apart. The church (people) learn through trial and error and prayer. God doesn’t doesn’t though. So it isn’t ‘The Lord administering as he wishes.’ There’s a huge difference between people administering learning (including failing) process to please God and God administering himself.

    While you may see this as absurd, I’ve got relatives who still believe Jesus is attending weekly meetings at the temple. It’s also what I was taught growing up in the 1980s.

  17. To Old Man and others

    $20k per member is not a lot of money….to you apparently. $20k is a lot of money to a lot of people. Thank you for sharing with us your perspective and your privilege.

  18. Another Roy says:

    Thank you for this post. I have observed that some individuals that wish to influence the church in a positive future direction must 1) refrain from being critical and thus have their message discounted by more traditional members and 2) make the case that the change that they wish to see was church teaching all along (if underemphasized). I read this post in the context – of celebrating and normalizing the church’s charitable works to help create an environment for bigger and better things on the horizon.

  19. nobody, really says:

    $20,000 is indeed a lot of money, but in this very impoverished corner of the vineyard, we have many members who would burn through that amount in a week and yet not better their lives in any lasting or meaningful way.

  20. Warner Woodworth says:

    To those who made suggestions, I follow-up about some cases, others’ writings, etc. I thank you and will try to respond. I’ve only spent 40-plus years on these issues and am quite aware of most other authors’ perspectives. More importantly, I deeply practice consecration in my daily life, not just write about such concepts. Regarding the fact that some local leaders may decline to assist in a specific case, that’s simply a reality that all humanitarian organizations deal with and it happens all across the globe. You and I usually don’t know all the specifics, so I try to not pay much attention because we lack specific data. Maybe you were there and thus have a different interpretation. But everyone who’s laboring in the charity field understands they can’t help every single person. For instance, my friends and students who labored with Mother Teresa were pretty amazed at how much the LDS Church was a faithful partner.
    Regarding “Elisa,” you made your first mistake by bringing up the supposed “$100 billion“ the church is sitting on today. First, you have no clue what you’re talking about. Second, I wrote my essay in October right after general conference, although it was only published in recent days. So it was months before the story appeared in the Washington Post. Maybe you have the gift of prophecy and knew all about it, but I’m a more simple, humble person and can’t foresee future WaPo articles with their allegations.
    To the critics: Such people enjoy the privilege of often being wrong factually, make erroneous assumptions frequently, and hate the good the church is doing. Based on my discussions with such individuals, I found they don’t give much to charitable programs themselves. At least they’ve admitted this to me. Others refuse to answer my query. They’ve never seen a life changed by LDS donations like I have for 40 years all over the world. Here are a few examples that I can witness to be true: A refugee who was starving in Jordan but now gets nutritious food from LDS contributions to the Islamic Relief Fund, a Honduran child trapped in a Trump cage on the border who was being assisted by Mexican LDS members with local church funds, the tents given to Venezuelan families in the Amazon fleeing their collapsing economy and violence while being aided by volunteer couples from Brazil assisting in many ways, the new wells with access to clean water in Sub Sahara African communities, helpful eye glasses for elderly people in Vietnam so they can see clearly again, mothers in Mozambique who can now feed their kids 3 meals a day because of our church’s support, a disabled Armenian with a wheelchair from LDS Charities, African Americans in inner cities of the USA who receive jobs training qualifications so they can be hired by area businesses, an LDS microloan for a Filipina to buy a sewing machine and start a microenterprise, schools being rebuilt with church contributions after the earthquake in Nepal, a family who gets money to buy a tin roof over their hut in Kenya, a group of abandoned orphans in Cambodia who are now getting care from an LDS humanitarian couple from Germany, a DR Congo family who now enjoys mosquito nets so as to avoid getting sick with the terrible disease of malaria, a Middle Eastern community that now has a village school funded by the LDS church, temporary shelter for the masses in Honduras after Hurricane Maria destroyed the country and/or tents to hundreds of thousands of victims in 11 nations around the Indian Ocean following the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed 230,000 and made a million people homeless, clean used clothing distributed to the “poorest of the poor” throughout Africa and beyond, and thousands of more such cases. I’ve seen each of the above incidents myself and can vouch for their accuracy.
    Let’s face it: Complainers will never accept the facts. Whiners don’t prefer actual knowledge and statistics. Critics are the very ones who don’t offer fast offerings or humanitarian funds to facilitate the grand work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For such people, ignorance is simply bliss. Always has been. Always will be.

  21. Wow, that was legit the most arrogant and condescending response to comments I’ve seen in a long time. Ouch.

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