On Faith: Serving others can enrich your life

I am constantly observing people in my life who are quietly and unobtrusively serving others without fame and notoriety.

Shortly after our marriage, my wife Sheila introduced me to an Evangelical minister who had received a call by the spirit to "feed my flock" – in the most basic way. It happened without fanfare and began with the left-over bagels and pastries from his favorite coffee shop, and has grown into a program where he was distributing tons of food each week to thousands of needy families throughout Southern California.

Sheila set up a time for me to visit with him and we met at the very coffee house where he had begun his work. I knew from what Sheila had told me that he had negative feelings towards the Latter-day Saints, but our visit was warm and cordial. After telling me of how he got started in his program, I felt inspired to ask him how I and the members of my faith could assist him.

I learned that he traveled all over the world – literally – to preach his Gospel and generate funds needed to perform his service. It was, in fact, a generous Muslim benefactor from, of all places, Dubai, who had provided the money to purchase his first truck, which he proudly showed me in the parking lot. It had just been painted the day before with the logo of his program: The Genesis Project.

He told me of the promises made by different people who had not met them. I was impressed with his dedication and sincerity, and again asked him what we could do to assist him. I indicated that our money was committed, but we were really good at providing manpower when and where needed.

He said that he needed a cargo van desperately and also could use help in a feeding program he ran in Orange on the last Saturday of each month. I said I doubted that we could help him with the van, but I would work on providing volunteers each month where, at a Catholic church in Orange, his food was distributed. I left him with my assurances that we would not let him down.

I was quickly able to organize the volunteers, but felt the burden on my heart relating to the van. That next Sunday, I shared my experience with the men of my congregation, and one of the young men asked me who the minister was.

When I shared his name, he fairly shouted, "I thought so! This man has been very close to our family all the time we were growing up. Let me see what I can do."

At the next feeding, our minister had his cargo van! He is now in Tulsa, Okla., and his feeding program has expanded many times.

Let me also share a personal experience. It was raining in Newport Beach – hard!

I was just driving out of my parking structure and noticed a bearded man carrying a large cardboard box, waiting under cover for the rain to let up, before making the long dash for the building.

I pulled up beside him, popped my trunk, jumped out of my car and removed an oversized umbrella. I opened it, and tucked it under his arm. He looked at me with a surprised expression and shook his head.

"No," he protested, "this is a nice umbrella. How will I get it back to you?"

"No problem," I responded, "just keep it."

After he expressed continued reticence, I relented.

"Okay, take it up to the 10th floor reception area and tell them it belongs to Tom," I said.

This was on a Friday afternoon, and on Monday I found the umbrella waiting with my receptionist. On Wednesday, we had a company meeting over which I was to preside with nearly 100 people present.

As I was about to begin, one of my associates, Mark Silberfarb, entered and exclaimed loudly, "Tom Thorkelson performed a mitzvah!"

I was taken back, and he continued by explaining that his Chabad Rabbi had, as a part of his sermon in the Shabbat service last Friday, told about the man who gave him an umbrella to keep his important package (and his clothing) from getting soaked in the recent rainstorm.

He had obtained my name from the receptionist and made something important of what, to me, was no big deal. But to him it was an example of caring and friendship.

Service not only provides blessings for those served, but also enriches those who provide the service.

In Matthew, we find "whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."

I believe that someone who becomes absorbed in serving others, soon discovers that their needs become secondary. True service is not given in expectation of reciprocation, but, once entered into with dedication, brings a joy that "passeth all understanding."

The harder we seek this joy, the more elusive it becomes. It is when we relinquish the selfish quest and "lose ourselves in the service of others" that we will discover that we are truly happy. Each of us are given many opportunities nearly every day to, in some small way, touch and improve the lives of others.

Take advantages of these occasions.

TOM THORKELSON is director of interfaith relations for the Orange County Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He lives in Newport Beach.

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