December 13, 2011 by Ron Madson
“For I was hungry, and you gave me food…”
(Matthew 25: 35)
There are tens of thousands of LDS children that are suffering from chronic malnutrition—leading to lifelong cognitive and physical defects, and in some cases contributing to their death. After extensive research and on the ground work for years in South and Central America, Dr. Brad Walker, who founded and operates the Liahona Children Foundation, offers these sobering numbers: “We estimate 80,000 active LDS children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and about 900 die from malnutrition each year.” While these findings may appear inconceivable to many members throughout first world countries, the everyday reality of the acute needs among children in less developed countries is known by those who live with it every day:
“Elder Walker, please go back to Salt Lake City and tell the missionaries who worked here how desperate we are for food and medicines. I have no money to help hungry children in my stake”—plea from a current Stake President in Ecuador
President Kimball understood the need for us to know of the suffering of others when he said: “I do not worry about the members of the Church being unresponsive when they learn of the needy as much as I worry about our being unaware of such needs.”
Fortunately, there is a non-profit organization made up of volunteers who give their time, money and resources to provide direct relief for LDS children suffering from malnutrition. The Liahona Foundation started in 2008 and works with Stake Members (member children can bring a non-member friend) to come and be screened for malnutrition. The Liahona Foundation indicates that on average 25% of the children screened are suffering from chronic malnutrition—some severe. These children (usually about 100 per stake) are then placed on a daily nutritional food supplement for an entire year. The cost for each child is only $50 a year. These vitamin rich daily supplements are critical in their development.
At this point in time, the Liahona Children Foundation has grown in the last year from seven stakes to seventeen stakes/districts. There is a need to not only make sure that the children in these stakes can continue to be funded each year, but that the Liahona Children Foundation can penetrate many other stakes that are in just as desperate need for assistance.
The Liahona Foundation does not want to sensationalize the suffering with pictures of severely malnourished children, but when they see children that attend church on Sunday who are so weak that they cannot hold up their head due to hunger, they know that something must be done now. With each passing day, week, month and year that a child’s nutritional needs are not addressed is time lost. Studies show that if you measure a child’s brain at 3 years of age that was suffering from severe malnutrition as compared to a child who was not, the size of the malnourished child’s brain is literally half the size of a normal child. Just as troubling is the reality that when a child succumbs to the many diseases facing children in less developed countries, that more often than not the primary component in their inability to overcome illness is their malnourishment. Thus, giving a child the proper nourishment is essential in cost effectively enriching and preserving life. There is no greater return dollar for life.
When we feed infants/small children we are truly helping the least among us. They cannot thank us, they cannot know, but their needs are truly the greatest and most urgent in our faith community. Some critics might suggest that if you simply feed the hungry then there is no recognizable return—you just have to keep feeding them over and over again. But there is another way to look at it. While we can and do invest in buildings, temples of granite and steel that give returns in spiritual environments, the investment in a child’s health and development is eternal long after buildings, and even temples crumble. So why invest in feeding children? Because that is what Jesus did. He fed the multitudes for He knew that one child of God is of greater value then all the riches and monuments of the world—no matter their inanimate beauty.
Through inspiration, our church has added a fourth mission of the church—Providing for the Poor. In October, President Uchtdorf in the last Priesthood Session (October 2011) highlighted the needs:
“This very hour there are many members of the church who are suffering. They are hungry, stretched financially, and struggling with all manner of physical, emotional, and spiritual distress. They pray with all the energy of their souls for succor, for relief.”
And then after emphasizing the needs, President Uchtdorf taught us that we must not wait for Salt Lake to solve these massive problems, but that we must take it upon ourselves to find solutions. President Hinckley had previously echoed the same sentiments: “I think there is a tendency among us to say, ‘Oh, the Church will take care of that. I pay my fast offering. Let the Church take care of that.’ We need as individuals…to reach down and extend a helping hand without notice…to give of that which the Lord has so generously blessed us.”
While we cannot solve all the hunger/malnutrition in the world, we collectively have the means to save every single LDS child from the ravages of malnutrition. If each of us even gave a little consistently we would have the ability through the Liahona Foundation to make sure that every child in our faith had the nutrition necessary to live a happy and fulfilling life. Please consider donating and then pledging (whether $5 a month or sponsoring in whole or part with others an entire stake) a consistent amount to the Liahona Foundation.1 Call or write if you want to host a meeting/presentation at your home. The contributions and those who serve with the Liahona Foundation are making a real difference in the lives of these children—we must find a way to reach all the children—and we can.
You can make donations and learn more about the Liahona foundation at http://www.liahonachildren.org/
Ron Madson/ firstname.lastname@example.org
1 The Liahona Children Foundation is a non-profit, tax deductible charity.