Are we too late to prepare for the coming bad times? Since the Great Depression leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have counseled members to prepare for bad times. From the time I was a little girl I have heard them tell us to get out of debt, establish an emergency fund, have some food, clothing, and other necessities in our homes, and prepare in other ways for emergencies.
President David O. McKay, a counselor in the First Presidency, spoke at the inauguration of the Church’s welfare plan in 1936: “[The welfare program] is established by divine revelation, and there is nothing else in all the world that can so effectively take care of its members.”
When the stock market crashed in 1929 the United States and the world were plunged into a financial crisis, such a one that had not previously been seen. Millions of Americans were out of work; unemployment in Utah was 35.8 percent in 1932.
The Church was ahead of the curve in that it was teaching welfare principles and had a system of storehouses, but many members were turning to the government for assistance. Church leaders wanted a way to assist “struggling members without promoting idleness and a sense of entitlement. The goal was to help people help themselves become independent.
“In 1933 the First Presidency announced: `Our able-bodied members must not, except as a last resort, be put under the embarrassment of accepting something for nothing. … Church officials administering relief must devise ways and means by which all able-bodied Church members who are in need, may make compensation for aid given them by rendering some sort of service.”
The Church Welfare Plan came into existence because of welfare principles and faith. Wards and stakes, branches and districts established “classes on sewing and canning, coordinating work projects, acquiring farms, and emphasizing righteous, thrifty, and independent living.”
The Great Depression ended, and the economy eventually improved. This did not change the need to prepare for emergencies, and Church leaders continued to preach about preparedness. In 1979 President Spencer W. Kimball shared his experience as a stake president when the Gila River overflowed and flooded Duncan, Arizona, and the surrounding area: “… After consulting with my first counselor … regarding the Saints’ immediate needs, I loaded my car with goods from the interstake welfare storehouse in Safford and drove the forty miles to Duncan. Arranging matters as best we could there, I walked the eight miles to Virden because bridges were unsafe for cars. I was filled with grief as I viewed the devastation of the houses and the farmland. Yet, in the ensuring weeks, I shared in perhaps the most fulfilling experience of my tenure as stake president. Through the high council and ward bishoprics, we organized for reconstruction. From welfare supplies and local labor we reestablished the people on the land. The contributions of the Saints throughout the area were wonderful, and, and I recall, we did not have to call on the General Welfare Committee for help. We handled it all locally ourselves.
“During this same period, I remember vigorously counseling the people to be self-reliant and to avoid debt. The Great Depression had not fully run its course when I was installed. Although we did not then refer to it as personal and family preparedness, we taught the Saints of our stake to care for their own needs. In one way or another, we gave expression to the basic principles of work, self-reliance, love, service, consecration, and stewardship.
“The firsthand experience of those days caused me to contemplate with great pleasure the progress the Church has achieved since welfare services were reemphasized in 1936.
“From these experiences, coupled with observations of the needs of our people at this time, I should like to share with you what I would do today in welfare services if I were now serving as a stake president.
“First, I would learn the program. I would study the scriptures, handbooks, and materials relating to welfare. I would come to understand that Welfare Services is nothing more nor less than `the gospel in action.’
“We think of welfare services as consisting of three parts: first, prevention of problems through provident living. This applies to every member. Second, temporary assistance for those with immediate needs, and third, rehabilitation for those with deep or long-lasting problems….
“Second, having learned everything I could, I would teach my ward and stake officers the principles and practices of Welfare Services. This includes instructing them in gospel principles, duties, and specific assignments….
“Third, I would implement Welfare Services as best my stake could. It is in the doing that the real blessing comes. Do it! That’s our motto. After what we have heard this morning, maybe we should change that to: Do it with a plan! But after we have the plan – … – then we must implement it and get the job done….”
In 2002 President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke to the priesthood brethren and said, “I wish to urge again the importance of self-reliance on the part of every individual Church member and family. None of us knows when a catastrophe might strike. Sickness, injury, unemployment may affect any of us.
“We have a great welfare program with facilities for such things as grain storage in various areas. It is important that we do this. But the best place to have some food set aside is within our homes, together with a little money in savings. The best welfare program is our own welfare program. Five or six cans of wheat in the home are better than a bushel in the welfare granary.
“I do not predict any impending disaster. I hope that there will not be one. But prudence should govern our lives. Everyone who owns a home recognizes the need for fire insurance. We hope and pray that there will never be a fire. Nevertheless, we pay for insurance to cover such a catastrophe, should it occur.
“We ought to do the same with reference to family welfare. We can begin ever so modestly. We can begin with a one week’s food supply and gradually build it to a month, and then to three months. I am speaking now of food to cover basic needs. As all of you recognize, this counsel is not new. But I fear that so many feel that a long-term food supply is so far beyond their reach that they make no effort at all.
“Begin in a small way, my brethren, and gradually build toward a reasonable objective. Save a little money regularly, and you will be surprised how it accumulates.
“Get out of debt and rid yourself of the terrible bondage that debt brings. We hear much about second mortgages. Now I am told there are third mortgages.
“Discipline yourselves in matters of spending, in matters of borrowing, in practices that lead to bankruptcy and the agony that comes therewith….”
Now President Thomas S. Monson is asking “Are We Prepared?” “No member of the Church who has helped provide for those in need ever forgets or regrets the experience. Industry, thrift, self-reliance, and sharing with others are not new to us.
“We should remember that the best storehouse system would be for every family in the Church to have a supply of food, clothing, and where possible, other necessities of life. The Lord’s storehouse includes the time, talents, skills, compassion, consecrated material, and financial means of faithful Church members. These resources are available to the bishop in assisting those in need.
“We urge all Latter-day Saints to be prudent in their planning, to be conservative in their living, and to avoid excessive or unnecessary debt. Many more people could ride out the storm-tossed waves in their economic lives if they had a supply of food and clothing and were debt-free. Today we find that many have followed this counsel in reverse: they have a supply of debt and are food-free.
“I repeat what the First Presidency declared a few years ago: `Latter-day Saints have been counseled for many years to prepare for adversity by having a little money set aside. Doing so adds immeasurably to security and well-being. Every family has a responsibility to provide for its own needs to the extent possible.
“We encourage you wherever you may live in the world to prepare for adversity by looking to the condition of your finances. We urge you to be modes in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from this bondage. Save a little money regularly to gradually build a financial reserve.”
“Are we prepared for the emergencies in our lives? Are our skills perfected? Do we live providently? Do we have our reserve supply on hand? Are we obedient to the commandments of God? Are we responsive to the teachings of prophets? Are we prepared to give of our substance to the poor, the needy? Are we square with the Lord?
“We live in turbulent times. Often the future is unknown; therefore, it behooves us to prepare for uncertainties. When the time for decision arrives, the time for preparation is past.”
I remember clearly 9/11 and how quickly our world turned upside down. There were news reports about how quickly the shelves in the grocery stores were emptied that day. I was discussing it with my older son and mentioned that I had not even thought about running to the store. His reply was, “That is because you have food in your home. If you did not have food, you would have been running to the store with all the rest of the people.”
I thought about his statement for a long time and knew it to be true. I have tried all my life to follow the counsel of the prophets and have lived providently for my entire married life. When my husband and I were first married, we did not have cash to pay for our car, but we made double and triple payments on it until we had it paid for. The same was true with our truck. Since that time we have paid cash for our vehicles, and we finished paying for our home about two-thirds of the way through our mortgage. Our 42-year-old washing machine died a couple of weeks ago. We did not worry about how to pay for a new washing machine; our only concern was finding the best value for our money. We are not independently wealthy; we simply practice provident living and self-reliance.
I know the peace of mind that comes from following the counsel of the prophets to practice preparedness; however, I wonder if I am truly ready for a big emergency. I know there are many ways I can better prepare; however, I am enough prepared to feel secure. I have enough and some to spare to help other people. This is a great feeling!