What would you do if your job description were to “Care for the poor and needy of the world?” Bishop Gérald Caussé knows, as he explained February 20, 2018, at Chapman University’s MUSCO Center for the Arts. Bishop Caussé delivered the inaugural John A. Widtsoe Distinguished Lecture for Chapman University’s 2018 Excellence in Religious Education Forum hosted by the Fish Interfaith Center, the LDS Student Association, and the John A. Widtsoe Foundation.

Prior to Bishop Caussé’s remarks, a reception and dinner was held at the Fish Interfaith Center where guests were able to view a rare first edition of the Book of Mormon (1830) on loan to Chapman’s Leatherby Library. Bishop Caussé was also presented with an award from Congressman J. Lou Caorrea of California’s 46th district for the LDS Church’s providing 30 years of worldwide assistance to millions of people in need of humanitarian and disaster efforts.

Chairman and President of the John A. Widtsoe Foundation, Dr. Larry Eastland, spoke of the importance of supporting LDS Scholarship and Mormon Studies at Chapman University. Such studies will aim to find a commonality in teachings of values and ethical principles, for the university’s nationally renowned Fish Interfaith Center is dedicated to discovering and furthering common values of scholarship and service. Dr. Gail Stearns, Dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel and Dr. Nancy Martin, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, both remarked that Chapman University is looking forward to further collaboration with the Widtsoe Foundation.  

Dinner speaker Damon Johnson, LDS representative of the Fish Interfaith Advisory Council, pointed out that the historical experiences of Latter-day Saints make them deeply devoted to supporting the cause of religious freedom and building relationships with like-minded community and interfaith groups. He said that Mormon Doctrine speaks of a ZION, where there are “people of one heart and one mind, that dwelt in righteousness, and there was no poor among them.” Johnson continued, “The combined strengths and vision of Chapman University and the Widtsoe Foundation provide an opportunity for us to make significant steps towards the Zion-like community we seek around us.”

A special concert by the Christian Fellowship Chorale of Los Angeles greeted guests as they arrived at the MUSCO Center for Bishop Caussé’s lecture on LDS welfare programs and humanitarian aid. Their performance was appropriate for the occasion; the Chorale was founded in 2010 to empower, encourage, and uplift others through song, including the sick and shut-in, the elderly, and the terminally ill. Their members engage in missionary services and perform both locally and abroad. Currently, there are more than 30 Chorale members from various local church denominations including Baptist, Church of God in Christ, Catholic, and Pentecostal. The Chorale has earned a reputation as one of the finest gospel choirs in Southern California, as was shown by the appreciative applause from the audience.

As Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the main responsibilities given to Bishop Gérald Caussé was to organize the Church’s resources and efforts to fulfill the manifesto to “Care for the poor and needy of the world.” The welfare program is not just a massive organization in Utah; it extends to every community in the world and its underlying purpose is to build character and benefit the givers and receivers—both temporally and spiritually. In response to any given crisis, Bishop Caussé is more concerned in learning how people were affected and blessed through the humanitarian service, compassion given, and interfaith harmony created, than he is in reports of how many cubic yards of trash were hauled away after a disaster.

These worldwide assistance programs focus on helping people become self-reliant long after the conclusion of humanitarian relief efforts. It comes down to the old adage of “Give a man a fish and you feed him for one day. Teach him to fish, and he will always be able to get food.”

In explaining where the money comes from to fund these programs, he said, “By way of explanation, the humanitarian fund covers the Church’s response to disasters and its core humanitarian programs—such as wheelchairs, clean water, and vision care—throughout the world. Fast offerings, on the other hand, provide the funds which bishops use to take care of the individual needs of families in their congregations. These contributions derive their name from Church members’ practice of fasting—or going without meals—for one day each month and then donating the money that they saved from those uneaten meals.”  Their donations come from their belief to put into action what Christ taught to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Bishop Caussé shared an experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas where one person offered his boat to ferry a family to safety. Word got out into the community and it expanded to 800 volunteers and 57 boats helping 850 residents from a volunteer boat dispatch command post in an LDS church, which then expanded into a shelter center for rescued families who had nowhere to go. The Red Cross came to them for assignments! It was overheard afterwards that one appreciative city official quipped after receiving supplies and manpower from the LDS Church after the hurricane decimated their city, that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) should mean Find Every Mormon Around.

Bishop Caussé observed many times during the evening that the mutually beneficial blessings for both giver and receiver come from looking for opportunities to give compassionate service. He suggested that anyone can offer to help in their own community by looking for projects on the JustServe.com website.   

His comments made an impact on those in attendance. “It was wonderful to hear from Bishop Caussé, as he so eloquently shared the many ongoing humanitarian services and contributions that the Church continues to lead throughout the world,” says Shellie Frey, Director of Public Affairs for the Orange, California Stake. “I especially appreciate the Church’s global and local efforts to partner with so many religious, civil, and charitable organizations to help millions of people worldwide attain life’s basic necessities, manage through times of crises, and become more self-reliant overall.”

The principle works: Teach a man to fish—and then have him teach another so they both will be blessed.

Over the past 30 years, LDS welfare and humanitarian efforts have totaled $1.2 billion in more than 200 countries. In 2017, the LDS Church responded to 191 countries on 2,697 projects with over 1,800 community and faith partners to serve millions of people worldwide.