Viewpoint: Help the Refugees among Us

Contributed By the Church News

  • 27 October 2015

The Church’s efforts to assist refugees around the world echo a directive to take care of the poor and needy that was taught by the Savior during His mortal ministry.

“We have a responsibility to extend help as well as hope to the hungry, to the homeless, and to the downtrodden both at home and abroad.” —President Thomas S. Monson

A letter from the First Presidency of the Church dated October 27, 2015, states:

“It is with great concern and compassion that we observe the plight of the millions of people around the world who have fled their homes seeking relief from civil conflict and other hardships. Thanks to the generous help of our members, the Church is providing assistance to migrants and refugees in several countries.

“Many Church members have inquired how they can provide additional assistance. Members may contribute to the Church Humanitarian Fund using the Tithing and Other Offerings donations slip. We also invite Church units, families, and individuals to participate in local refugee relief projects, where practical.

“May the Lord bless you as you render Christlike service to those in need.”

On February 4, 1846, in the dead of winter with freezing temperatures, several hundred early Church members fled their homes in Nauvoo and assembled in temporary camps in Iowa (see Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, chapter 24, “Nauvoo Under Apostolic Leadership”).

The group—many who arrived unprepared for what lay ahead—were in every way refugees, running from oppression in search of a better life.

Today, the Church continues to care for refugees who, like the early pioneers, find themselves in temporary camps after fleeing oppression.

We have been given a scriptural injunction from the Lord to care for strangers among us in Leviticus 19:33–34: “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself.”

The modern Church has been dedicated to helping the poor and needy since the time of Joseph Smith. But two 1985 fasts to help African famine victims accelerated the work.

In the 30 years since those fasts, the Church has sent $1.2 billion in assistance to those in need. Much of that aid has gone to refugees.

“We have a responsibility to extend help as well as hope to the hungry, to the homeless, and to the downtrodden both at home and abroad,” said President Thomas S. Monson during his April 1990 general conference address (“Conference Is Here”).

In recent years LDS Charities has worked with numerous agencies and partners who serve refugees. Some of these partnerships include UNHCR sanitation camps in Rwanda; UNICEF immunization campaigns in Kurdish Iraq; Catholic Relief Services refugee camp shelter in Chad; AMAR schools and medical clinics in Iraq and Kurdistan; International Rescue Committee English language and vocational training in Salt Lake City; United Muslim Relief efforts to provide clothing, bedding, and food for new refugees in Jordan; International Medical Corps work to provide medical supplies in Yemen and Libya; Medecins Sans Frontieres ebola support in West Africa; and Catholic Community Services resettlement support in Utah.

And institutionally, LDS Charities sponsored a refugee conference at headquarters this year to bring together those humanitarian partners working to aid refugees.

“Humanitarian acts rooted in a desire to listen, to heal, to cooperate, to respect are as potent a transformational agent for change as anything on the earth,” said Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities, while offering a Pioneers in Every Land lecture in the Assembly Hall on May 14.

Sister Eubank shared 40 ways that we can all reach out to refugees in our own community. The entire list is available on Mormon Channel. However, help to refugees can be as simple as being a sincere friend and taking a stand against intolerance. We can help refugees by offering employment to someone unexpected or visiting someone who is ill. We can learn a sport or teach a sport or welcome new people to our neighborhoods.

We don't have to travel to refugee camps in the Middle East or Africa. We can start in our own neighborhood with people we know (see mormonchannel.org/blog/post/40-ways-to-help-refugees-in-your-community).

“Charity,” said Sister Eubank, “is more than aid. In a faith-based context it is much more complete. It is assistance that comes with love or human feelings of respect. By its very nature there is no quid pro quo or expecting something in return. The scriptures say ‘it seeks not its own.’ It emphasizes dignity, human worth, cooperation, unity, sacrifice, and the assurance that no one is too poor or too disabled or too marginalized or too much a hardened enemy to contribute something of value.“

The Church’s efforts to assist refugees around the world echo a directive to take care of the poor and needy that was taught by the Savior during His mortal ministry. “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in. … Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:35, 40).

As the situation improved for the pioneer refugees who fled Nauvoo, they built temporary shelters and planted gardens they did not intend to harvest. It was a way for those pioneers to help the refugees that would follow in their footsteps.

Elder Albert E. Bowen explained that helping the poor is ultimately about building up character: “The real long term objective of the Welfare Plan is the building of character in the members of the Church, givers and receivers, rescuing all that is finest down deep inside of them, and bringing to flower and fruitage the latent richness of the spirit, which after all is the mission and purpose and reason for being of this Church” (The Church Welfare Plan [Gospel Doctrine course of study, 1946], 44).

Sister Eubank said the real long-term objective of LDS Charities is also to build character: “Projects at their core are really about rescuing the seed of what is finest down deep inside each person and giving it an opportunity to grow and flower. Through work, self-help, thrift, and service each person grows in accountability and confidence. Stronger character is the ultimate sustainability. Uncovering and protecting the inner richness of each individual soul is our reason for being.”

We can help LDS Charities with this goal. As we read or watch news of refugees today, may we all think about the pioneer heritage we all share as Latter-day Saints and reach out to the strangers or refugees among us.

Mormon pioneers at Red Buttes Camp on October 19, 1856. The pioneers are trying to light a fire to cook with in heavy snow and wind.