A Bright Ray of Hope: The Perpetual Education Fund, By John K. Carmack
Reviewed by Catherine K. Arveseth

It was April General Conference, 2001.  Most members remember how they felt when they learned the Church was establishing a Perpetual Education Fund (PEF).  Many were openly emotional.  Those who lived in or served within countries that would benefit from this innovative program saw with spiritual eyes its purpose and vast need.  Author of A Bright Ray of Hope: The Perpetual Education Fund, Elder John K. Carmack was called by President Hinckley to be the program’s director and given the charge to accumulate funds, identify recipients to receive loans, and provide overall leadership to this inspired plan. 

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An overwhelming task with incredible work lay ahead.  At one point, President Faust jested, “John, what did you do in the pre-existence to deserve such a calling?”  Then he offered this prophetic counsel, “‘Sometimes an opportunity comes your way, perhaps once in a lifetime, to truly do something that will make a difference in people’s lives.  That has happened to you.  If you seize the opportunity you can render a great service to thousands of people'” (60). 

Elder Carmack saw the program for its timely inspiration; he knew it was from God.  He gathered the right people – individuals who were prepared – and simply went to work.  Immediately encouraged by generous donations and grateful recipients, he writes, “We . learned that young people from many lands had been praying for the kind of help PEF brought.  For example, one said: ‘I asked the Lord what I could do, then PEF answered my prayers.’  Perhaps the young people of the Church prayed PEF into existence.  One of them testified: ‘The Lord has given us this.  We were prepared to receive it.’ This seems a true insight” (4).

In Historical Context

In telling the PEF story, Elder Carmack has wisely placed it in its historical context.  The Church had developed programs of similar intent before.  In 1850 Brigham Young introduced the Perpetual Emigrating Fund so “those of limited means could borrow enough money to allow them to come to Utah with their families.  After establishing themselves, they would repay their loans as best they could . replenishing the fund and enabling others to enjoy the same privilege” (13).  An estimated 100,000 Saints were helped by the original PEF.  Many became exceptional contributors to their communities and the Church.  The genius of both old and new programs is in the adjective “perpetual.”  By asking individuals to repay loans, funds perpetuate.  President Hinckley knew the PEF acronym would remind seasoned members of opportunity and hope for those without. 

Elder Carmack also gives a brief history of the Church Welfare Program, originally known as the Church Security Plan, instituted by President Harold B. Lee in 1936.  The premise of this program was to “help the people help themselves” (42). It grew out of hard times set off by the Depression.  Self-reliance was a principle of revelation and it worked.  It is still successfully yielding independent, unburdened individuals.  President Hinckley knew this type of system was the necessary foundation for a new PEF.  He explained, “They [program participants] will enjoy a wonderful sense of freedom because they have improved their lives, not through a grant or gift, but through borrowing and then repaying. They can hold their heads high in a spirit of independence.'” (162) 

Simply giving money to individuals, Elder Carmack says, undermines the principles upon which PEF is based.  The Church’s goal is to help its members overcome the tendency to expect something for nothing.  When members are self-reliant they can freely give, serve and share.

A perfect example of how the program is working is found in this brief introduction to a young couple in Colombia, Andres and Adriana.  Notice the amount of increased income furthered education will bring to Andres.  Also note the purity and selflessness of their first financial goal.

“Andres works a full week, earning about $125 per month, and attends school fulltime as well.  Adriana does what she can to help while awaiting their first baby.  Full of faith and serving in responsible Church callings, they look forward to a ten-fold increase in income when Andres graduates next year in telecommunications.  Their first financial goal?  ‘We hope to refurbish an old van on our street and take the whole neighborhood to Church!'” (54).

That humbling statement plucked a chord of awe and gratitude deep within me for the Lord’s faithful disciples around the world.  PEF is making it possible for Andres and Adriana to become self-sufficient so they, in turn, can serve others and build the Kingdom – truly an inspired plan.

How and Why It Works

PEF was originally launched in the countries of Peru, Mexico and Chile.  It was introduced to young people of the Church through the Institute of Religion program.  Firesides were held to explain PEF to young men and women, many of whom were returned missionaries.  Too often missionaries returned home after exceptional service and a taste of opportunity, only to have great difficulty finding jobs and affording an education.

An obvious problem was presenting itself.  PEF was the solution.  Here is how it works.  Young adults are required to take a brief course in career training and development to examine options and assess their abilities relevant to needs within their communities.  Applicants then meet with institute directors and bishops to create an educational plan, indicating choice of career, years of education needed, and desired loan amount.  PEF applicants promise to borrow only the amount necessary to achieve their goals.  They are to “pay all their own room and board, stay in their own communities, and find ways to pay as much of their own school expenses as possible” (182). 

Every applicant promises to repay their loan.  Applications are endorsed by a Bishop and sent to the PEF Board for careful consideration.  If the individual’s plan does not make sense or seems to need some adjustments, it is returned for further consideration.  90% of all applications are approved. 

Since the loan is to be repaid, a small amount of interest begins to accrue after recipients complete their training.  This incentive encourages PEF participants to repay their loans quickly.  Many do so before they have completed their schooling.  With new contributions coming in and loans constantly repaid, PEF can meet growing needs.  As the needs increase, the fund will increase. 

Immediate success within pilot countries allowed for the program to expand to greater areas of Southern and Central America, Africa and other countries in need. 

That is how the program works – but why is it so successful?  We know education is the key to opportunity, but simply put, PEF is based on true principles.  That is why it works.  Elder Carmack reiterates its scriptural foundation.  “One of the phrases we often hear and use in our prayers is: ‘Bless the poor and the needy.’  Surely we should constantly pray for the poor and the needy, but isn’t there more to our duty toward others than merely dashing off that phrase?  PEF has given church members and others a real and practical way of helping young people raise themselves out of poverty into the light of a bright ray of new hope” (5). 

Referencing Doctrine and Covenants 52:40, Elder Carmack cites this revelation to Joseph Smith:  “And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.” 

We know how the Lord feels about the poor and needy.  What about His living prophet?  To the brethren during General Priesthood Meeting, October 6, 2001, President Hinckley said, “We need to care for one another more diligently.  We need to make a little more effort to assist those who are down at the bottom of the ladder.  We need to give encouragement and a lifting hand to men and women of faith and integrity and ability, who can climb that ladder with a little help” (41). 

The principles of PEF are in keeping with a divine decree that we minister to those in need.  Well-meaning prayers are not enough.  As a result, the Lord is assisting in this work.

Individual Voices

I made the mistake of assuming this book would largely offer glimpses into the lives of those benefiting from PEF.  Anxious to read their personal stories, I wanted to learn how their lives had been changed by this inspired outreaching.  The book, however, is almost entirely about the program itself, how it was conceived and the principles that support it.  There are a few cameo appearances of young men and women participating in the program, but they do not make up the majority of the book.  I was disappointed in this.  But as I continued to read, I began to realize this is probably the right book for the right time.  A more poignant narrative of individual stories can and I hope will be published five to ten years from now.  At that point we will be able to see the astounding impact PEF has had not just on individuals and their families, but upon communities, the Church and the world.  This program is producing strong leaders for both Church and civic purposes.  It is meeting the need for priesthood leadership in nations where it is difficult to find leaders to meet burgeoning church membership. 

Elder Carmack explains, “In years to come we will see the tremendous changes this program will bring to the lives of individuals and families.  It will provide leaders for the Church and build the economies and the strength of the communities where these young people reside . PEF may point the way for other organizations, including governments, to raise the level of their communities and countries by establishing comparable programs” (165). 

Below are several testimonials from those currently participating in PEF:

“I am studying law and doing my best.  I report regularly to my institute director.  He is happy that I am making all A’s.  Some of my friends have been concerned that they have to repay the loans if they borrow from PEF.  They asked me why President Hinckley requires us to repay the loans. I answer: the priesthood directs the Church.  If we do what they counsel we will have stability and faith in our lives.  We will do best if we follow the priesthood.” (171) -Aquatint

“I am so very grateful.  I am repaying the loan.  I will not let the prophet down.'” (174) -Marila

(Marila is one of two women in Peru’s most prestigious technical school.)

“I am studying to be an X-ray technician.  My family is very poor.  I study at great sacrifice, working during the day and going to school at night.  I travel by bicycle, often in the rain.  My bishop is always at my side to help me.  I became excited about the equipment and I am learning.  My mission helped me a lot.  Now I want to help others.” (171)  -Marco

“The Lord has opened the door – I am so grateful – and I hope to repay my PEF loan before I graduate!” (1)  -Meriam, Philippines (Meriam will be a Web Designer.)

Upon Them Hath the Light Shined

Isaiah wrote, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)  PEF has caused a bright light to shine upon young adults and families that have dwelt in darkness and economic despair.  Their lives have been absent of hope, but PEF is a ray of light upon them.  In the first three years, more than 10,000 loans were granted, and Elder Carmack expects in six to seven years 65,000 loans will be approved.

A Bright Ray of Hope is evidence that PEF came from God.  Individuals who were called to establish and develop it were prepared years in advance by the Lord.  Their stories are intriguing, their service admirable.  Similar to the insight provided by Glenn L. Rudd’s book on the Church’s Welfare Program, John K. Carmack has carefully captured the history of PEF as one of the Lord’s most inspired programs.  I look forward to a sequel that will highlight the far-reaching effects of PEF through the telling of individual stories.  We are anxious to see how lives will be forever changed by the shining of this great light.

For more information about the Perpetual Education Fund or for giving opportunities, go to www.ldsces.org


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