First Presidency Encourages Refugee-Focused Service

Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News associate editor

  • 28 March 2016

Church leaders have invited Latter-day Saint women to participate in the relief effort "I Was a Stranger" by focusing on serving refugees in local neighborhoods and communities.  Photos by Sarah Jane Weaver.

Article Highlights

  • Leaders encourage sisters to provide Christlike service to the refugees in our midst.
  • New website helps members understand refugees’ challenges and learn how to serve them.

“May we then seek inspiration, act on impressions we receive, and reach out in unity to help those in need as we are able and inspired to do so.” —Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president

The First Presidency is encouraging Latter-day Saint women of all ages to assist refugees in their own communities in a letter dated March 26.

“We remind Latter-day Saints throughout the world that one of the fundamental principles of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is to ‘impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, … administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants’ (Mosiah 4:26),” states the First Presidency letter.

The letter outlines the “I Was a Stranger” refugee relief effort and follows another letter issued six months ago. In October 2015 a letter from the First Presidency encouraged all members to provide assistance to refugees in all parts of the world.

The current letter includes an invitation from the general presidencies of Church’s Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary organizations to participate in the “I Was a Stranger” effort—which “gives sisters a way to serve as individuals, in families, and in organizations and to offer friendship, mentoring, and other Christlike service to the refugees in our midst.”

For more information on the effort, visit the “I Was a Stranger” website launched in conjunction with the effort.

Additionally, the women serving as the general presidents of the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary organizations sent a letter dated March 26 to be distributed in meetings of their organizations around the world.

“The relief effort ‘I Was a Stranger’ focuses on serving refugees in our local neighborhoods and communities,“ states the women's letter. ”It is just one of many ways women, young women, and girls in Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary can lift and bless those in need (see Matthew 25:35; Leviticus 19:34).”

Church leaders have invited Latter-day Saint women to participate in the relief effort “I Was a Stranger” by focusing on serving refugees in local neighborhoods and communities. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

Church leaders have invited Latter-day Saint women to participate in the relief effort “I Was a Stranger” by focusing on serving refugees in local neighborhoods and communities. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

The letter details who can participate in the effort and how participants can share their experiences with the Church.

“We hope that all will realize the eternal blessings of Christlike service,” the letter states.

Speaking during the general women’s session of the Church’s 186th annual general conference, Sister Linda K. Burton, general Relief Society president, asked sisters worldwide to “prayerfully determine what you can do according to your own time and circumstance” for refugees.

“There are more than 60 million refugees including forcibly displaced people worldwide. Half of those are children,” she said. “These individuals have undergone tremendous difficulties and are starting over in new countries and cultures. While there are sometimes organizations that help them with a place to live and basic necessities, what they need is a friend and ally who can help them adjust to their new home, a person who can help them learn the language, understand the systems, and feel connected.”

The Church has been providing aid to refugees in the Middle East for more than a decade, donating hundreds of thousands of blankets, clothes, emergency medical supplies, food, and other resources to refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Syria.

In response to the recent crisis in Europe, the Church made an additional commitment in September of $5 million to help displaced families.

Acknowledging that Latter-day Saint women come from all walks of life and live in varied circumstances, Sister Burton promised the Lord’s help to those who “ask for divine guidance to bless His children.”

“As we consider the pressing calls of those who need our help, let’s ask ourselves, ‘What if their story were my story?’” she said. “May we then seek inspiration, act on impressions we receive, and reach out in unity to help those in need as we are able and inspired to do so.”

The new “I Was a Stranger” website states:

“In a world of constant change and commotion, we may often feel like strangers. All around us we hear of distress, tragedy, and hardship. We live in a time of uncertainty and unrest. Many around us live in fear of an unknown future. What can our role as women be in the last days to prepare the earth for the coming of Christ? What can we do to reach out, to love, to nurture, and to minister as He has invited us to do?

“We each have the invitation as women and young women to open our eyes and our hearts to see those among us who may feel alone, afraid, or uncertain so that we are no longer strangers (see Matthew 25:35–36; Ephesians 2:19). We are invited to share our love, our confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ, and our hands to strengthen others and love them as the Savior would have us do. This is not a program; it is who we are.

“With our divine nature as women, we can be a light in a darkening world. We can give hope, love, and care to those around us. We are not asked to 'run faster than [we have] strength' (Mosiah 4:27). Although we can work together, we are not asked to organize large efforts. Instead we are each asked to seek personal revelation about whom the Lord would have us strengthen and love as individuals and as families. The Savior invites us to participate in a personal ministry of love and to remember His words: 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … , ye have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40).”