Viewpoint: Help the Refugees among Us

Contributed By the Church News

  • 9 May 2016

“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” (Matthew 25:35).

Article Highlights

  • Refugees can be defined as anyone yearning for relief.
  • Leaders encourage members to reach out to those in need.

“There are refugees among us that are not from foreign shores. And the battles they are waging are from very private wars. And there are no correspondents documenting all their grief. But these refugees among us all are yearning for relief.” —Michael McLean, songwriter

In August 2014, terrorists overran the town of Mosul in northern Iraq; those who were not killed left everything they had behind and fled.

A mother was cooking at the stove when she heard warnings from the streets. She left the baking food, grabbed her children, and ran.

She was lucky. Another woman recalled learning that her husband did not make it out of the city alive.

“We needed to escape,” explained a third refugee.

Many of the displaced residents of Mosul made their way to Erbil, located in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. With nothing but the clothes on their backs, they rested in city gardens.

Zarifa Bibo Smo and her brothers—who each owned large, adjacent houses in the city—saw the immediate need.

The two brothers left their homes and made plans to welcome as many displaced people as possible. “We will let the displaced people stay here, and we will find someplace else to live,” each agreed.

At first there was just a handful of families. Soon four families turned into 10 and 15. Eventually 23 families settled into the homes. Zarifa determined to help the displaced people recover.

“I feel terrible, but how I feel is nothing compared with how they feel,” she said. “I just want to be there for them.”

When LDS Charities representatives learned of the families living in the houses, the organization stepped forward to help the displaced people. LDS Charities partners with a network of credible agencies to provide shelter and sanitation for refugees around the world.

“There are an estimated 60 million refugees in the world today, which means that one in every 122 humans … has been forced to flee their homes, and half of these are children,” said Elder Patrick Kearon, a General Authority Seventy, during this year’s April general conference. “It is shocking … to reflect on what this means in each individual life.”

A First Presidency letter sent to the Church on October 27, 2015, expressed great concern and compassion for refugees. The letter invited members to donate to the Church’s Humanitarian Aid Fund. This remains an important way to reach out to refugees across the globe.

Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society General President, also recently asked LDS women across the globe to help refugees.

“It is our hope that you will prayerfully determine what you can do—according to your own time and circumstances—to serve the refugees living in your neighborhoods and communities,” said Sister Burton during the general women’s session in March.

She 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.”

In the days since that request, many Latter-day Saint women have expressed a deep desire to assist refugees. One woman sent an email to the Church News. “Where do I find my refugee?” it read.

The woman acknowledged what so many were thinking. Unlike Zarifa, most of us do not have refugees pouring into our city gardens. And even if we do live in a city with thousands—or even millions—of refugees, Sister Burton asked that women “prayerfully determine what you can do according to your own time and circumstances.”

Although a refugee can literally be defined as someone who “flees for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval or war,” Church members can find great meaning in a broader definition.

The lyrics of LDS musician Michael McLean’s song “Safe Harbors” illustrates this approach: “There are refugees among us that are not from foreign shores. And the battles they are waging are from very private wars. And there are no correspondents documenting all their grief. But these refugees among us all are yearning for relief.”

During the general women’s session, Sister Burton spoke about a stake Relief Society president who contributed quilts to suffering people in Kosovo during the 1990s. “And like the good Samaritan, she … drove a truck filled with those quilts from London to Kosovo. On her journey home, she received an unmistakable spiritual impression that sank deep into her heart. The impression was this: ‘What you have done is a very good thing. Now go home, walk across the street, and serve your neighbor!’”

We help refugees when we reach out to a family member. We help refugees when we notice that a neighbor is lonely or sad. We help refugees when we share a meal or when we send a note to a friend in need.

Zarifa and her brothers are modern-day good Samaritans; they found refugees on the roads and the gardens of their city.

But we do not need to turn our homes over to refugees—as did Zarifa’s brothers. We do not need to dedicate days and weeks to caring for the every need of the displaced—as did Zarifa. All we need to do is ask the Lord to give us eyes to see the refugees among us—those who are lonely or sad or distressed—and then reach out. We can find refugees in our families, neighborhoods, wards or branches, and cities.

We have all received an invitation from the general presidencies of the Church’s Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary organizations to join Zarifa and others serving refugees by participating in the “I Was a Stranger” effort.

In a letter dated March 26, the First Presidency stressed the importance of this effort: “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).”