June 20 is World Refugee Day, in which we pause to consider the upended lives of some 65 million people around the world. These refugees — half of whom are children — have left war-ravaged areas, leaving familiar schools, jobs and homes for foreign countries, many with only the clothes they are wearing.
Some have fled by foot, others by truck and still others by sea, all embarking on an unanticipated pilgrimage in search of peace and stability.
Beyond simply reflecting on the unjust plight of so many, serious souls wonder, “How can I help?” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been reaching out to refugees for decades, with many success stories. One of these is from Naima, featured in a new video below. She spent her childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya and now has a master’s in social work.
Responding to the current refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, the First Presidency in October 2015 encouraged members around the world to donate money and participate in local projects. Then, in March 2016, the First Presidency invited Mormon women (who are part of Relief Society, the Church’s organization for women 18 and older) to reach out and practice a fundamental characteristic of Christian life — namely, 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).
The website associated with the latter invitation and reminder, iwasastranger.lds.org, encourages Latter-day Saints to “look around your neighborhood, school, workplace, and other places you visit often for those who might need your help and your love.”
Elder Patrick Kearon of the Seventy, who spoke of the Church’s refugee response at the April 2016 general conference, adds that “each one of us can increase our awareness of the world events that drive these families from their homes. We must take a stand against intolerance and advocate respect and understanding across cultures and traditions.” He also encourages members around the world to “[meet] refugee families and [hear] their stories with your own ears, and not from a screen or newspaper. Real friendships will develop and will foster compassion and successful integration.”
How have Latter-day Saints responded? A woman in Georgia welcomed a Burmese refugee family to the United States, teenage girls at summer camp in Utah created hygiene kits for refugees and a family in Idaho became close friends with a Sudanese family.
These are only three of many examples. Have you reached out to refugees in your community? You can share your experience via email (IWasAStranger@ldschurch.org) or post your story to social media with the hashtag #IWasAStranger.
Examples of How Others Are Helping