After graduating from BYU-Idaho, Chelsea Rutter thought she checked all the boxes needed for a successful life — getting good grades, building a portfolio of published work and earning a bachelor’s degree — but a few weeks after graduation, she found herself homeless.
“That night I was in the back of my friend’s car, and I thought to myself, ‘This is my life. I don’t have anywhere to live; I’m homeless,” Rutter said. “You never expect you’re going to be in that situation, especially when you do well in school and people tell you that you have all this stuff going for you. Everything on paper says things should work out in your favor, but things just don’t sometimes.”
After a few weeks of searching for a job, she heard of an available position in Provo, Utah, and began to make the drive there.
Rutter found herself sleeping in temple parking lots, spending time at McDonalds to use the bathroom and Wi-Fi and passing the time at parks with her dog.
Like Rutter, there are many people who are in need of service and good deeds. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently launched a Christmas initiative titled, “Light the World,” that invites members of the Church to focus on serving those in a time of need this Christmas season.
“The whole purpose of this initiative is to celebrate and share the Light of Christ,” said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a Church statement. “What we hope people will do is not simply think about the Savior during this Christmas season, or even just learn more about Him. What we hope is that they will come to know Him by doing what He did.”
The Church’s website, mormon.org, features a downloadable advent calendar, “In 25 Ways. Over 25 Days,” providing ideas for service each day in December until Christmas.
Though the original position Rutter sought fell through, she got a paid internship, at Deseret Digital Media in Salt Lake City, Utah, and found a basement for rent.
After about a month in Utah, she said a few incidents put her mental health at risk and she returned to Rexburg to meet with a counselor she met with while attending BYU-Idaho. She said she also purchased a 1988 Toyota RV for $1,200 that she could live in if she found herself on the road again.
Rutter initially lived in her motor home while in Rexburg. However, Rutter said she got discouraged as the nights began to get colder and colder as winter was approaching.
“I was very detached from the flow of normal life,” Rutter said. “Everyone else was going to work and going to school, and I was kind of just awake when I’m awake and asleep when I’m asleep. It was all about what do I need next — do I need to find somewhere where I can shower, use the bathroom, do laundry — where can I park my car?”
Earlier this semester, Rutter said she dropped by to see Sam and Dallas Lloyd, a recently married couple attending BYU-I, to drop off a Christmas present she had gotten them, as well as grab a quick shower.
“Sam had set up an air mattress, put sheets on it and gave me a space — not just a couch — and that was the first time I slept on a bed in a while,” Rutter said. “I didn’t need to worry about parking the motor home, or wondering where I’ll use the bathroom, and I didn’t have to worry about being cold or my dog being cold. I woke up the next day to get myself together and figure out what I’m doing next.”
Dallas Lloyd, a sophomore studying health psychology, said her husband and she both felt they should offer their spare bedroom to Rutter. The following morning, they gave her a key to the apartment and said she was welcome to stay until she figured out what her plan and next steps would be.
“This isn’t one of those things where you think about doing something like this,” said Sam Lloyd, a senior studying communication. “It’s not like we thought in our scripture study or asked in our prayers like, ‘OK, I’m going to take someone in tomorrow,’ but when you’re put in the situation, you’d be surprised how good people are.”
Sam and Dallas Lloyd are an example of how to act when service opportunities appear.
Elder Bednar said in a statement on Mormon Newsroom that the point of the #LIGHTtheWORLD initiative is not to overwhelm the members with ideas of service, but to focus on the example of Jesus Christ.
“When you have nothing to offer and people are willing to help you … there is no better way to have any conception on how the Savior loves you than when you cannot pay somebody back for how they’re helping you,” Rutter said.
Sam Lloyd said helping Rutter was not just about giving service, but being there for a friend.
“It’s not about doing some big thing, but doing little things along the way, which could lead to bigger things,” he said. “With Chelsea, in the past, she’s been there to listen to me, and I’ve been there to listen to her — that’s really where it started. When the situation arose that she needed a little bit more help, it was just like, ‘Sure, why not?’”
Rutter said it was nice to feel like she was not in survival mode.
“When you’re staring down the oncoming winter and you have no idea what you’re doing — it was just such a relief to not have to worry about that long list of things that I had been worrying about,” Rutter said. “I then knew I had water, a place to sleep, food to eat and I don’t have to worry about moving, or laundry or where to use the bathroom.”
Rutter said she realizes most BYU-I students do not have a lot themselves, but they never should think they have nothing to offer. She said people should offer what they can, when they can and that acting on those opportunities to serve will be meaningful.
“These are very simple things that the Savior has provided the example,” Elder Bednar said. “And we, in a very appropriate, simple way during this Christmas season, can do the same things that He did. He healed the blind. We can help the blind to see. We might, for example, read a story to someone in a nursing home who cannot see — doesn’t take a lot of time, but a small, simple act of service that exemplifies the Light of Christ.”
#LIGHTtheWORLD focusses on simple day-to-day acts that could apply to anyone interested in serving.
Sam Lloyd said Church members tend to focus on service projects with different organizations and neighborhoods, but more importantly, he said members should focus on serving those in their own personal sphere.
“If you focused on serving your family, your friends and everyone did that, then the world would be a better place,” Sam Lloyd said. “It’s a lot to put on one person to feel like they have to go save the world, but if we all did our part with our friends and our family, then that’s the type of service that will make a difference.”