Throughout 2020, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints joined with those in the greater Chattanooga area to just serve.
The year began with a focus on young missionaries, both male and female, who left their families and put their education on hold to declare the divine mission of Jesus Christ. “Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of the world. Only He is mighty to save,” the missionaries testified from Ringgold to Dayton, Hixson, Ooltewah, Collegedale, Chattanooga and beyond as they invited all to come unto Christ and find everlasting joy.
W. Brett Graham, formerly a Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Leavitt Partners, a health care consulting firm based in Salt Lake City, was called to lead the missionaries as president of The Tennessee Knoxville Mission. It was announced that he and his wife, Sara, would serve for three years.
Like the missionaries they serve alongside, they are not salaried and also put their life on hold to share God’s message of happiness which is based on the two great commandments – to love God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). Jean B. Bingham, president of the Relief Society, or women’s organization of the restored Church, said, “When we join our small efforts together and call upon The Lord’s help, every individual can do magnificent things.”
That’s what Chattanoogans have been doing all year long. When COVID-19 hit, the Chattanooga Area Food Bank and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints linked arms, with the Church donating over 40,000 lbs. of food items to help alleviate suffering. A semi-truck from the Atlanta LDS Bishop’s Storehouse arrived on April 20. Laura Kirkpatrick, director of Agency and Government Relations for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, said, “Without this gift and the outpouring of help from our community, we would not be able to respond to the tremendous need we are facing.” The Church explained that, “Storehouses have always been a part of the Lord’s Church. He has continually instructed His people to seek out the poor and help care for their needs, and He established storehouses as a means of providing those people with needed resources. The first storehouse that we know of was the one operated by the high priest, prophet, and king Melchizedek (see Genesis 14:20) who was the keeper of the storehouse of God,” (Genesis 14:37-39).
In response to the devastating tornados that tore through Chattanooga and parts of Georgia, more than 1,000 volunteers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Chattanooga, Cookeville, McMinnville and Cartersville, plus more than 20 full-time missionaries serving in the area, showed up to log over 15,000 hours of service and completed over 400 projects. Phil Smartt, communications director for the Chattanooga Stake, said, “Church members have cleaned up damage of hundreds of homes, and we’re just glad to do it. We’re helping because Jesus Christ teaches us we should love our neighbors as ourselves. So we’re here to serve our brothers and sisters, no matter how many hours it takes.” New Channel 3 and News Channel 9 were on the scene to cover the service rendered by the Church. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and State Representative Esther Helton visited the command center at the Church building located on Ooltewah-Ringgold Road. They were impressed by the organization of efforts. Federal, state and local government officials, including Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, Mike Carter (State Representative), Sabrena Smedley (County Commissioner) and Darrin Ledford (City Council) also toured Church operations and were also appreciative of the scope and work undertaken by the volunteers.
Local members of the Church also contribute to worldwide efforts. Partnering with the Salvation Army, Feeding America, Partnership with Native Americans, Convoy of Hope, the United Way and the World Food Programme, among others, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has supported more than 1,000 COVID-19 relief projects across the globe. The LDS Church-owned Beehive Clothing Company – with facilities located in Brazil, Mexico, Paraguay, the Philippines, Salt Lake City and American Fork – also shifted production to make cloth face masks and surgical gowns for healthcare workers around the world. The Relief Society helped to make over five million medical-grade face masks, and counting. Church President Russell M. Nelson invited the world to join in two global fasts for relief and to express gratitude for the blessings that are upon us.
By serving each other, we are fulfilling our responsibilities as disciples of Christ in “simple yet remarkable ways,” President Bingham said. 2020 marked 200 years since the First Vision, when God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to 14-year old Joseph Smith in answer to his prayer. Joseph’s prayer ushered in the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. About six months ago, President Nelson introduced a proclamation to the world – authored by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles – in honor of the anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. As officials state, the proclamation “invites people everywhere to know for themselves that God speaks and that this Restoration of truth is occurring to help them prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.” A copy of the proclamation may be accessed at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/the-restoration-of-the-fulness-of-the-gospel-of-jesus-christ/a-bicentennial-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng.
The proclamation invites all to come unto Christ, receive the ordinances of salvation and gain enduring joy. In the midst of a tumultuous 2020, President Nelson renewed the call to live the two great commandments – a call that includes racial harmony, respect for human dignity, and “On earth peace, peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).