A Magnificent Obsession

Years ago I saw a movie you may have seen too (if you’re quite OLD). The title was “Magnificent Obsession,” and it was about a doctor whose “magnificent obsession” was to help people anonymously.  He kept a secret notebook of what he had done and how happy it made him. (I may not have described this very well… it’s been a long time since I saw it and read the book).

There is an aspect of my life which I call my “magnificent obsession.”  It doesn’t really have much to do with me keeping a secret notebook of good deeds . . . but it IS about something which captured my heart and soul and opened up all kinds of “windows of heaven” for me.


44 years ago today – 06 May 1972 – I entered the Missionary Home (which at that time was across the street north of the Church Office Building) headed back to the Philippines for the second time (as a health missionary).  And I began to learn – mostly from Dr. James O. Mason – about the gospel principles emphasized in welfare services. It felt like words and descriptions were being put to things I had felt for a long time.

My companion was Jill Bousfeld from Perth, Australia.  Both of us were nurses.  She wasn’t able to come to the LTM, so I brought a “double dose” of all the materials I’d been given, we met each other in the Philippines, and we studied and prayed earnestly to know how to carry out what we’d been called to do.

Towards the end of that mission (with about 4 months left), I was asked to go to Hong Kong and work for about a month with the first health missionaries assigned there. This was a great opportunity – I had lived and served in Hong Kong for 5 months on my first mission, so I knew my way around a little bit (it had changed a lot in 10 years plus!).

Then back to the Philippines to finish my last 3 months with an incredible mission president (Carl Jones) who had arrived while I was in HK. I’ll never forget how I felt when he said/asked “Sister Edmunds, how can I help to make the last 3 months of your mission the best experience possible?” WOW!!

I was then hired by Dr. Mason (who was over health services for the Church) to coordinate the work of all health missionaries. It was a fantastic experience. I continued to learn from this important mentor in my life (and from others too, of course). I loved the 7:00 AM Welfare sessions on the Saturday morning of General Conference. It was a sad day when I learned they were being discontinued. It felt like they were “how-to” sessions for leaders and members. Applying gospel principles – putting the gospel “in action.”

During the close to 3 years that I helped train and supervise the health missionaries, I had the blessing of visiting many of them while they were serving, traveling to Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, the Dominican Republic (a few years later) and some locations “state-side” (like on some Reservations). I put out newsletters, received reports, and did my best to give encouragement and ideas to the Sisters (and, for a while, the Elders) who were called to this assignment.

Then I was called to go out again, to Indonesia, and our “title” had changed to Welfare Services missionaries, but the basic assignment was the same: Helping members to LIVE (to APPLY) what they’d been taught.  When I returned from Indonesia I almost went back to nursing. I was offered a job (actually 3 to choose from) at the hospital. But I kept feeling there was something else. A couple of weeks later I was hired at the LTM (later MTC when the English were “added” in 1978), and my responsibility was to supervise the training of the welfare missionaries, which I did for around 17 years (plus the time before that). What a blessing! I met some fantastic young women, and I loved watching them “catch on.”

Someday maybe I’ll share some of the incredible experiences I had. For now I’m just celebrating the day it all started, 44 years ago. It changed my life.  One of my favorite handbooks (and I don’t know if it’s still printed) is: Providing in the Lord’s Way. At one point I pretty much had it memorized (OK… that’s an exaggeration).  I’m deeply grateful to all who helped me understand more about the gospel principles which are emphasized in welfare services. I love (LOVE!) having former “WSMs” come up to me wherever I go and report that they’re still teaching (their children, their Relief Society sisters, etc. etc.). What a blessing they are to everyone around them!

I’ve been tempted to add some quotes, but my “project” got out of hand. I’ve tried to cut down to just a few (you may not believe that if you start reading). I hope you’ll find them meaningful.  (And thanks for letting me go on and on and on … as if you could have stopped mee!!!  HA HA) I should give a Blue Ribbon to anyone who reads the whole thing (“I can’t believe I read the whole thing!”) Just thanks to those who figure out how important this work and these principles have been in my life since 06 May 1972.

PRESIDENT SPENCER W. KIMBALL – Isn’t the plan beautiful?  Don’t you thrill to this part of the gospel that causes Zion to put on her beautiful garments?  When viewed in this light, we can see that Welfare Services is not a program, but the essence of the gospel.  It is the gospel in action.  It is the crowning principle of a Christian life.  (Ensign, Nov, 1977)

PRESIDENT EZRA TAFT BENSON – Welfare Service is not a program but the essence of the gospel.  It is the gospel in action.  Welfare principles are eternal.  They do not change.  Living them is essential to our perfection.  We desire all members of the Church in every area of the world to enjoy the blessings that will come as they work, become self-reliant, live providently, contribute their fast offerings, and render compassionate service. (“Applying Welfare Principles in our Lives” – Video)

PRESIDENT MARION G. ROMNEY – Let us work for what we need.  Let us be self-reliant and independent.  Salvation can be obtained on no other principle.  Salvation is an individual matter, and we must work out our own salvation in temporal as well as in spiritual things.  (02 October 1976)

PRESIDENT BRIGHAM YOUNG – My experience has taught me, and it has become a principle with me, that it is never any benefit to give out and out to man or woman, money, food clothing or anything else, if they are able bodied and can work and earn what they need, when there is anything for them to do.  This is my principle and I try to act upon it.  To pursue a contrary course would ruin any community in the world and make them idlers.  (Discourses of Brigham Young, selected and arranged by John A. Widtsoe, p.274)

PRESIDENT MARION G. ROMNEY – There is an interdependence between those who have and those who have not.  The process of giving exalts the poor and humbles the rich.  In the process, both are sanctified.   (Ensign, Nov, 1982)

PRESIDENT RUSSELL M. NELSON – Few, if any, of the Lord’s instructions are stated more often, or given greater emphasis, than the commandment to care for the poor and the needy.  Our dispensation is no exception.    (Ensign, May 1986)

PRESIDENT J. REUBEN CLARK, Jr. – The real long-term objective of the welfare plan is the building of character in the members of the Church, givers and receivers, rescuing all that is finest down deep inside of them, and bringing to flower and fruitage the latent richness of the spirit, which after all is the mission and purpose and reason for being of this Church.  (02 Oct 1936 – Providing in the Lord’s Way, Frontispiece)

THE FIRST PRESIDENCY: Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark Jr., David O. McKay – Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift, and self-respect be once more established amongst our people.  The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves.  Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership. (October, 1936)

PRESIDENT MARION G. ROMNEY – It is my prayer that each of us will derive from this session of conference today a greater conviction and a deeper understanding that welfare services is the work of Jesus Christ, that the welfare plan is his plan, that its principles are his principles, that its spirit is his spirit, and that its achievements are the surest guarantee of peace in this life and immortal glory in the world to come.   (Ensign, Nov 1980)

PRESIDENT JOSEPH F. SMITH – It has always been a cardinal teaching with the Latter-day Saints that a religion that has not the power to save people temporally and make them prosperous and happy here cannot be depended upon to save them spiritually and to exalt them in the life to come.    (“Out West,” Sept, 1905, p. 242)

PRESIDENT GORDON B. HINCKLEY – We reaffirm the basic principles of the welfare program.  There will be no departure from those foundation principles.  We feel the need to emphasize with greater clarity the obligation for members of the Church to become more independent and self-reliant, to increase personal and family responsibility, to cultivate spiritual growth and to be more fully involved in Christian Service.   (01 April, 1983)

PRESIDENT MARION G. ROMNEY – Almost from the beginning of my services in church welfare I have had the conviction that what we are doing in this welfare work is preliminary to the reestablishment of the Law of Consecration and Stewardship as required under the United Order.  If we could always remember the goal toward which we are working, we would never lose our bearings in this great work.  (02 April 1977)

BISHOP GLENN L. PACE – There is a state of human misery below which no Latter-day Saint should descend as long as others are living in abundance.   (Ensign, May 1986)

BISHOP J. RICHARD CLARKE – It has always been the disposition of the true disciples of Christ, as they reached higher degrees of spirituality, to look after the needy.   (Ensign, May 1977)

PRESIDENT THOMAS S. MONSON – Self-reliance is a product of our work and undergirds all other welfare practices.  It is an essential element in our spiritual as well as our temporal well-being.   (Ensign, Sept 1986)

ELDER ROBERT D. HALES – With…basic welfare principles in mind, today we are being asked to teach and practice the doctrine of work, self-reliance, provident living, giving, and caring for the poor; to increase our generous fast offering donations to help those in need; to increase our compassionate service, involving the family in charitable acts of serve to one another and to our neighbors.   (Ensign, May 1986)

BISHOP GLENN L. PACE (Quoting PRESIDENT MARION G. ROMNEY) – All we have been trying to do is make our people self-reliant, because the more self-reliant one is, the more able to serve he becomes, and the more he serves, the greater his sanctification.  (Ensign, May 1986)

BISHOP J. RICHARD CLARKE – The welfare services program of the Church is essentially you and I being self-sufficient within our own families.  The Church storehouse system is a backup system….  There is no way the Church, as an institution, intends to assume the responsibility that rightfully belongs to the individual.  The welfare program was never designed to do so.  (Oct 1980)

ENSIGN article (May 1986, p. 98): – It is possible to arrive at a condition in which temporal practices foster spiritual salvation.  Welfare principles lead to the conditions that characterized Zion….  God has revealed basic principles for the welfare and salvation of his children, and these principles have not changed since the days of Enoch.  It is expected that we will rise to the same standard in our dispensation.  Whenever inspired men and women have sought appropriate ways to apply welfare principles, the Lord has revealed methods suited to their circumstances.  History reveals a surprising variety of approaches to caring for temporal needs, but two methods are dominant: compassionate service and self-reliance.  Compassionate giving and service ensure that (1) the poor do not suffer, (2) those whom the Lord has made rich sufficiently sacrifice, and (3) the Lord’s people are equal in earthly things so that things of the Spirit may be fully manifested among them.  Temporal equality means that all are adequately supplied with basic needs of life – food, shelter, and clothing. 

PRESIDENT J. REUBEN CLARK, Jr. – The Lord took the commandment from the people to live the United Order because of their selfishness, and their greed, and their love of idleness.  Had they lived it, they would have brought in the millennium.  If we don’t live the welfare program, the Lord will take from us the requirement to live it, and if he does, it will be because of our selfishness and greed and love of idleness.  If that should happen, 100 years from now the people will look back at us as we look back on the people who were given the united order law, and they will say of us, “They had the welfare program.  If they had lived it, they would have brought in the millennium.”   

PRESIDENT SPENCER W. KIMBALL – Now, brothers and sisters, would you put aside for a moment the pressing demands of this day and this week, and permit me to establish some very important perspectives about welfare services.  For many years we have been taught that one important end result of our labors, hopes, and aspirations in this work is the building of a Latter-day Zion, a Zion characterized by love, harmony, and peace – a Zion in which the Lord’s children are as ONE. The vision of what we are about and what should come of our labors must be kept uppermost in our minds as we learn and do our duty in the present implementation of welfare services. As important as it is to have this vision in mind, defining and describing Zion will not bring it about.  That can only be done through consistent and concerted daily effort by every single member of the Church.  No matter what the cost in toil or sacrifice, we must do it!    (April 1978)


12 thoughts on “A Magnificent Obsession

  1. Involvement with this “Applying gospel principles – putting the gospel ‘in action'” has also changed my life. It put a framework in place that, with a little tweaking occasionally, still orders much of life’s experiences for me. Now that I am in “re-mission” and serving in a different realm, I find myself still trying to apply, in every-day, meaningful ways, the same “old” principles.
    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have a collection (report) of some of the ways “former ‘WSMs’ have continued “teaching (their children, their Relief Society sisters, etc. etc.)” principles they learned on their missions?

    • You already know that many things you’ve written and shared with me have taught and blessed me. I just had a book turned down, so it might be a while before I work up the courage to try another one (grin)….

  2. In 1979 you were our Relief Society leader in the MTC. What a blessing you were to me and all the Sisters not only the Welfare missionaries.

    And yes, I read the whole post. Always do. How could I not? Thank you for sharing. You are still a blessing in my life.

    • Thank you SO much. I’ve said before that the calling to teach the “Seesters” every Sunday for so many years is the happiest, best calling I’ve ever had…. I LOVED IT SO MUCH!!!

  3. Mary Ellen. You are indeed an inspiration to many. That includes me. Thanks for all of your daily messages

  4. Even as I sit around recuperating, I have found ways to serve (or they have found me). It is such a blessing to me to see that I can still do something to help my sisters and my ward. Thank you so much for deciding to teach in the MTC. There are countless missionaries who were inspired by you. You still inspire!

    I love all of these quotes.

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