I have always been inspired by the scriptural account of Elijah, the prophet in the Old Testament. I quote from an article by Jeffrey R. Holland. “God commanded Elijah to go to the village of Zarephath where, he said, he had commanded a widow woman to sustain him. As he entered the city in his weary condition he met his benefactress, who was undoubtedly as weak and wasted as he. Perhaps almost apologetically the thirsty traveler importuned, ‘Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.’ As she turned to meet his request, Elijah added even more strain to the supplication. ‘Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand [also].’
Elijah’s pitiful circumstances were obvious. Furthermore, the widow had been prepared by the Lord for this request. But in her own weakened and dispirited condition, the prophet’s last entreaty was more than this faithful little woman could bear. In her hunger and fatigue and motherly anguish she cried out to the stranger, ‘As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks [which tells us how small her fire needed to be], that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’
But Elijah was on the Lord’s errand. Israel’s future—including the future of this very widow and her son—was at stake. His prophetic duty made him more bold than he might normally have wanted to be.
‘Fear not,’ he said to her, ‘but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.’
Then this understated expression of faith—as great, under these circumstances, as any I know in the scriptures. The record says simply, ‘And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah.’ Perhaps uncertain what the cost of her faith would be not only to herself but to her son as well, she first took her small loaf to Elijah, obviously trusting that if there were not enough bread left over, at least she and her son would have died in an act of pure charity. The story goes on, of course, to a very happy ending for her and for her son.
This woman is like another widow whom Christ admired so much—she who cast her farthing, her two mites, into the synagogue treasury and thereby gave more, Jesus said, than all others who had given that day.
Unfortunately, the names of these two women are not recorded in the scriptures, but if I am ever so privileged in the eternities to meet them, I would like to fall at their feet and say ‘Thank you.’ Thank you for the beauty of your lives, for the wonder of your example, for the godly spirit within you prompting such ‘charity out of a pure heart.’
I began with a story of diminishing cornmeal. May I conclude with another. Amidst the terrible hostilities in Missouri that would… see thousands of (church members) driven from their homes, Sister Drusilla Hendricks and her invalid husband, James, who had been shot by enemies of the Church in the Battle of Crooked River, arrived with their children at a hastily shaped dugout in Quincy, Illinois, to live out the spring of that harrowing year.
Within two weeks the Hendrickses were on the verge of starvation, having only one spoonful of sugar and a saucerful of cornmeal remaining in their possession. Drusilla made mush out of it for James and the children, thus stretching its contents as far as she could make it go. When that small offering was consumed by her famished family, she washed everything, cleaned their little dugout as thoroughly as she could, and quietly waited to die.
Not long thereafter the sound of a wagon brought Drusilla to her feet. It was their neighbor Reuben Allred. He said he had a feeling they were out of food, so on his way into town he’d had a sack of grain ground into meal for them.
Shortly thereafter Alexander Williams arrived with two bushels of meal on his shoulder. He told Drusilla that he’d been extremely busy but the Spirit had whispered to him that ‘Brother Hendricks’ family is suffering, so I dropped everything and came [running].’
May God, who has blessed all of us so mercifully and many of us so abundantly, bless us with one thing more. May he bless us to hear the often silent cries of the sorrowing and the afflicted, the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, the poor. Indeed may he bless us to hear the whispering of the Holy Spirit when any neighbor anywhere ‘is suffering,’ and to “drop everything and come running’.”
Quoted part of the article by Elder Jeffery R. Holland, “A handful of Meal and a Little Oil” May, 1996 Ensign Magazine.