In his play about Joan of Arc, playwright Maxwell Anderson had the courageous young heroine who had been condemned to death at the stake speak these words:
"Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, nevertheless, they give up their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it, and then it's gone. But to surrender what you are, and live without belief - that's more terrible than dying - more terrible than dying young."The pages of history and literature tell stories of many heroines, some from real life and others from the imaginations of writers. Noble women of strength hold our attention and win our admiration.
Next year Relief Society sisters throughout the world will commemorate the organization's 150th anniversary. They will have the opportunity to look back upon the lives of noble and great predecessors in Nauvoo, Ill., where the organization began March 17, 1842. They also will reflect upon the contributions of Relief Society sisters in their own areas.
This will be a good time for them to determine what they are willing to "give up their lives" for or to what they wish to devote their time, talents and energies.
This eve of the Relief Society's sesquicentennial is an exciting time. Many of the organization's members (2.78 million in 128 countries and territories) will reflect upon the roots of the Relief Society during this coming year. Those roots, they will discover, are embedded in service.
One of the world's oldest and largest organizations for women, it is appropriately named: "Relief Society."
In a hymn about the beginning of this great organization, Jan Underwood Pinborough wrote:
A key was turned in latter days,
A blessing to restore -
A gift of charity and peace -
To earth forevermore.
Our Father, we would turn our hearts
To those who seek thy face
Give hope and comfort to the poor
In mem'ry of thy grace.
A hand of mercy we'll extend:
Thy Son has shown the way.
And light and knowledge will attend
Our service in his name.
O sisters, let us join our hands;
We'll humbly seek his face,
Assure our hearts before our Lord
By deeds of love and praise. (Hymn No. 310.)
The Relief Society - this "gift of charity and peace" - has blessed countless lives and will bless countless more. Think what has been and can yet be accomplished by this organization of women universally united under the motto "Charity never faileth."
Imagine the results if 2.78 million pairs of hands were busy in the service of others. Let your mind wander the unnumbered miles 2.78 million pairs of feet might walk to bring hope and comfort, light and truth to the sad and lonely, to the bereaved and the despairing, to those who are hungry and cold.
For this coming sesquicentennial year, the Relief Society general presidency is asking sisters throughout the Church to commemorate the organization's anniversary by engaging in service to others. Think what great cause for celebration there will be if each Relief Society sister performs just one charitable deed per day. If this ideal were to become reality, between March 17, 1991, and March 17, 1992, more than 1 billion 14 million people will have been helped in some way - great or small - by Relief Society sisters.
The caring and love Relief Society sisters demonstrate toward others is legendary. Yet it is a common factor in their lives.
Visiting teachers embody the spirit of Relief Society. An example is found in the far north of New Zealand where homesteads in the bush are difficult to reach. Two visiting teachers made the extra effort to visit a Maori sister who had moved onto a homestead miles from town. They drove down a cow track until the road petered out, then walked 20 minutes to a humble homesteader's hut where they sat on the ground to visit.
Touched by her visiting teachers' concern, the Maori sister persuaded her family to walk 20 minutes to the road and then ride a bus 30 minutes into town to attend Church on Sundays. She and her family became active in the Church and have gone to the temple to be sealed as a family. All this happened because of the love and concern of two dedicated visiting teachers from the Relief Society.
As the sesquicentennial year approaches, may all Relief Society sisters continue to joyfully join hands to lift others as they give of their time and talents in the service of the Lord. Could there be a better gift for a 150th anniversary celebration?