LDS Charities Featured during United Nations Event

Contributed By By Janet Peterson, Church News contributor

  • 11 March 2014

From left, John P. Colton, Ahmad S. Corbitt, and Sharon Eubank at United Nations event on February 27, 2014.  Photo by Heather Shimmin.

In a historic first, the work of LDS Charities was featured at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on February 27, 2014.

Titled “Discovering Mormonism and Its Role in Humanitarian Assistance,” this event was part of the Focus on Faith series sponsored by the Nongovernmental Organizations Relations and Advocacy Section of the U.N.’s Department of Public Information. The U.N. granted LDS Charities, the humanitarian arm of the Church, NGO status several years ago.

“This series aims to provide a broader understanding of how different belief systems share common foundational principles such as tolerance, mutual respect for those different than ourselves, and a commitment to reconciliation and peaceful resolutions to disputes,” explained panel moderator Felipe Queipo, a public information assistant in the DPI/NGO Resource Center and a member of the Church from Spain. Previous briefings have focused on the Catholic and Bahá’í faiths, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

New York New York North missionaries with President Thomas B. and Sister Debra Morgan at United Nations event. Photo by Heather Shimmin.

A U.N. conference room was filled with more than 520 people from the international diplomatic community, NGOs, faith-based groups, and Church members from the metropolitan area. Young missionaries serving in the New York New York North Mission from a dozen countries were recognized as representatives of worldwide Church membership.

Panelists included Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities; Ahmad S. Corbitt, director of the New York Office of Public and International Affairs; and Elder John P. (Phil) Colton, who is serving with his wife, Sister Barbara Colton, as a U.N. representative for LDS Charities.

Last year as Sister Eubank visited a refugee camp in Jordan, she talked to a doctor who, along with 100 other Moroccans, volunteered at a military hospital. When the doctor told her that they had treated more than 300,000 people, she asked how they could sustain such effort over a long period of time. He replied, “How can we not? These are our brothers and sisters. How can we not?”

Every major world religion has as its core the same great truth of loving one’s brothers and sisters and serving those in need—the Golden Rule. Sister Eubank said, “To care for the poor is a foundational duty of anyone who reveres God and the brother and sisterhood of all—to serve, lift, bless, and relieve suffering independent of religious persuasions, social philosophy, nationality, tribe, gender, or background.” LDS Charities is founded on that premise: These are our brothers and sisters. How can we not?

Left, Sister Barbara S. Colton and Simangaliso Gumende of Mozambique attend U.N. event. Photo by Heather Shimmin.

Sister Eubank also told the story of how Dutch Church members at the end of World War II grew potatoes in any possible plot of ground—flower beds, vacant lots, backyards—and gave tons of potatoes to German Saints. From this generous act of charity, not only were the hungry fed, but souls were uplifted and transformed. Their example illustrates “some foundational planks in the platform of LDS Charities of how we reach out and plan projects. … It emphasizes dignity, human worth, cooperation, unity, sacrifice, and the assurance that no one is too poor or too vulnerable or too marginalized to contribute something of value.”

The stated purpose of LDS Charities is to relieve suffering, foster self-reliance, and provide opportunities for service for families of all nationalities. Its key initiatives are clean water, neonatal resuscitation, vision care, wheelchair distribution, immunizations, food, and emergency response. Sister Eubank explained LDS Charities’ unique aspects of being (1) self-funded entirely from donations, (2) based on a volunteer model, and (3) partners with other charitable organizations.

People braving frigid New York City weather to attend U.N. event. Photo by Nila Uriostegui.

Elder Colton, a nuclear physicist retired from the U.S. State Department and the United Nations, discussed why the Church provides humanitarian assistance by quoting from the thirteenth article of faith: “We believe in … doing good to all men” and explained that Latter-day Saints follow Jesus Christ’s admonitions to help others in need, furnish drink to those who thirst, and visit the sick and afflicted.

He compared the LDS Charities initiatives to several of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals “to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, to reduce child mortality rates, and to develop a global partnership.” Elder Colton stated, “LDS Charities is making a real difference in people’s lives and will continue to do so.” He then enumerated some of the ways LDS Charities provided help to nearly two million people in 132 countries in 2013.

U.N. conference room filled to capacity during event on February 27, 2014. Photo by Heather Shimmin.

Brother Corbitt emphasized that there are “people of goodwill in all the world religions” and invited “all of us to come together under that common umbrella, under that common sense of human dignity and help one another, to help people that are suffering.”

Family and religious freedom are important priorities for Latter-day Saints, noted Brother Corbitt. “We respect everyone’s religious freedom and right to have their own conscience and thought. We note the U.N.’s emphasis of this principle in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, section 18, which reads, ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.’”