When I told people that I was taking my children to Hawaii for the week of Christmas, reactions ranged from admiration to disbelief to jealousy. I generally tried to temper things with the caveat that my children’s father grew up in Hawaii, so we would be visiting family and friends, and that trips to Hawaii have always been a somewhat regular part of our family life. We hadn’t been over there for three years, and a trip to Hawaii seemed like a better family Christmas gift than more physical objects that would just clutter up the house. I spent a year saving and planning, but still felt a bit of guilt at the extravagance of such a vacation up until the moment our plane landed in Honolulu and we walked out into the warm, tropical air.
It turned out to be a wonderful vacation for all of us, including my sister who came along on our trip. We rented a house by the ocean and spent hours at the beach, swimming in the warm water, eating sandy chips, and building sand castles. We took the kids hiking through a botanical garden to a waterfall, to a science museum to learn about volcanos, and to the Polynesian Cultural Center to learn all about the diversity of cultures in the world. And of course we visited with cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends. I spent 2014 attending graduate school online, in addition to working full-time, so having a week to just spend time with my kids free from homework, school, and work was priceless.
Towards the end of our trip I received an email reminding me that the start of a new year meant that it was time to renew my annual sponsorship of John, an elementary school student in rural Uganda. My neighbors run a small non-profit organization that supports education in Uganda. While public school is available to students there, many families struggle to find the money to pay for supplies, uniforms, and school fees. Also, many village schools are poorly built and lack amenities like desks or adequate restrooms. My neighbors have found that the best way to help advance education in Uganda is to raise money in the United States that can then be used to purchase items from African suppliers, benefiting the economy locally while supporting students at the same time. A few years ago my neighbor asked if I would be willing to sponsor a student, and though at the time it stretched my budget, I said yes. My family receives letters from John every few months along with a copy of his current report card. He tells us that he loves his school and his teachers and that he is studying hard. He always says that he is praying for us.
Receiving an email about my sponsorship while sitting in a beach house was a sobering reminder that building Zion is a complicated prospect. For the price of my Hawaiian vacation I could have sponsored the building of a new school in Uganda. Or sponsored 10 children for the school year. Ever since hearing Elder Holland’s masterful talk, “Are We Not All Beggars?” in this last General Conference, I have spent many hours pondering whether I am doing enough to help all my brothers and sisters in the world. I have thought of John and his friends in Uganda; I’ve considered the children in my own state who don’t have enough food, shelter, or love in their lives. I’ve also looked at my own life and my own children—how do I balance our own needs for food, shelter, and stability with my desire to help others? I would love to do more to lift others out of poverty, but don’t want to sacrifice my future or that of my children. As Elder Holland acknowledges, inequality and poverty have complicated causes and the solutions are not simple. We all have to do the best we can.
That, unfortunately, is the question that haunts me. What is my best? Am I doing enough? I give a generous fast offering, sponsor John, and contribute to a few other community organizations. I’m saving for my own retirement and staying out of debt so that my children and I can hopefully remain self-sufficient. I find comfort in the words of Elder Holland who reminds us to look to the Lord for guidance in answering the question of what we should do to help others: “I don’t know exactly how each of you should fulfill your obligation to those who do not or cannot always help themselves. But I know that God knows, and He will help you and guide you in compassionate acts of discipleship if you are conscientiously wanting and praying and looking for ways to keep a commandment He has given us again and again.” One of my goals this year is to pray for more specific guidance in keeping the Lord’s commandment to care for the poor. This is not something I have regularly done in the past and I hope that I will find new ways to balance my needs and wants with the needs of all of my brothers and sisters here on Earth.
To learn more about the specific organization I mentioned, TRUE Africa, click here
How did you feel about Elder Holland’s talk? How can we balance our own needs with the commandment to care for the poor and needy?