Sitting in a recent Sunday School class, I felt my jaw drop as I listened to a woman’s story of charity. Years ago, the woman’s husband left her only five days after she had surgery due to cancer. She was left sick and alone with no one to care for her.
Many years later, her daughter called asking if her father–the very man who had left this woman in her time of need–could rent a room. He had dementia and had no where to go. With tears in her eyes, this woman told our class how she had taken him in and cared for him, feeding him and tending to his needs when he didn’t even remember his misdeeds to her or even know who she was!
I gleaned from the story that the woman had taken care of this man until he died. She spoke of how she had survived her own illness, was healthy, had found the gospel of Jesus Christ and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, inspiring her to emulate Jesus’ example of charity.
This woman’s story reminded me of the Savior’s admonition in Mark 12:28-31 when he taught of the two greatest commandments: “to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. . .” and to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
I have always loved the Relief Society’s (Church women’s organization) motto of ‘Charity Never Faileth.’ In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Mormon teaches that “charity is the pure love of Christ.” His son, Moroni, the last of their people, wrote in a farewell address that “except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God.”
Our living prophet and president of the Church, Thomas S. Monson, said that charity is the opposite of criticism and judging. “In speaking of charity, I do not at this moment have in mind the relief of the suffering through the giving of our substance. That, of course, is necessary and proper. . . I have in mind the charity that manifests itself when we are tolerant of others and lenient toward their actions, the kind of charity that forgives, the kind of charity that is patient. . . There is a serious need for the charity that gives attention to those who are unnoticed, hope to those who are discouraged, aid to those who are afflicted. True charity is love in action. The need for charity is everywhere.”
Another story of charity I recently heard in Sunday School is of Jonathan Napela, one of the first members of our Church in Hawaii. Born of royal lineage, Jonathan Napela and his wife Kitty found our faith in 1851. He served as a mission representative to the king, helped in the translation of the Book of Mormon into his native language, and worked with missionaries to start a language training school for new missionaries.
Brother Napela worked hard to teach natives the gospel and served as a Church leader until his wife contracted leprosy. Though she faced confinement in a leper colony on the island of Molokai, her husband refused to be separated from her. It was no small feat for Brother Napela to remain with his wife since he was of royal blood and had to get special permission to accompany her.
According to one account, the leper colony was “a small, beautiful peninsula on the north coast of the island (that) was unsurpassed in human sorrow, suffering, and degradation. Nonexistent facilities and a board of health that knew next to nothing about the disease condemned the lepers to suffer under almost unimaginable conditions.”
Brother Napela eventually contracted leprosy, becoming almost unrecognizable. In addition to remaining with his beloved Kitty, he served as the Branch (small congregation) President, serving the spiritual and temporal needs of the people until he died, ironically a few years before his wife!
Because of Brother Napela’s great charity for those around him, there are 15 stakes in the islands today, two temples, a BYU–Hawaii campus, and the Polynesian Cultural Center.
While I am far from perfect, I have felt a renewed desire to be more charitable, as I learned from the examples of my friend from Sunday School and Brother Napela who have followed Christ’s teachings in John 13:34-35 to “love one another; as I have loved you. . .” After all, what could be better than that?