Having to flee home may be the most traumatic experience of someone’s life. Violent forces, economic challenges, and political unrest can force families to abandon their homes without time to gather treasured possessions or needed supplies. Families are often separated during the dangerous journey as they travel hundreds of miles to find safety. Children may witness or experience extreme food shortages and bodily harm. These people can only hope that their arduous journey will come to an end in a safe place.
Over the past decade, at least 100 million people had to flee their homes, seeking refuge either in or outside their countries.1 With such sobering statistics, the plight of people displaced from their homes is of deep concern. By looking to the Savior’s example, we can find personal ways to minister to people in need.
Recognizing Our Shared History
For Latter-day Saints, displaced people should be more than just a story in the news; we should see them as our neighbors (see Matthew 22:39) with whom we, and the Savior Himself, share a history. “Their story is our story, not that many years ago,” said Elder Patrick Kearon of the Presidency of the Seventy.2
We do not have to look back far to see a time when Latter-day Saints were violently driven from their homes and livelihoods. We can also see how some of their new neighbors made a difference in their journey. When the Saints were driven from the state of Missouri, residents in Quincy, Illinois, received them and offered help. Those people were examples of Christlike service and “saved Latter-day Saints from greater casualties than they might have otherwise suffered.”3
The Savior also experienced being a refugee during His mortal life. Brett Macdonald of Latter-day Saint Charities said of his visits to refugee camps around the world, “Jesus and His parents were refugees in northern Africa for a time; you sense His influence and intense interest in the lives of those who suffer.”4
Following a Humanitarian Code Today
Today, we have opportunities to reach out and offer the same help that 19th-century Church members once received from their neighbors. But our brothers and sisters who are displaced from their homes today need more than resources or money; they need meaningful relationships and Christlike ministering.
Many humanitarian organizations, including Latter-day Saint Charities, follow a humanitarian ethical code that can help us minister to displaced people. While the code applies to humanitarian work broadly, there are gospel principles within it that can help us more effectively “lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5).
The Principle of Humanity
The principle of humanity teaches that as we minister, we work to see each individual as a child of God. This sounds simple enough, but it may be difficult to remember when people look, act, speak, or believe differently than we do.
To help you see the divine in each person, ask yourself, “If the individual were a family member or a loved one, how would my view of this person change?”
This question became very personal to one Latter-day Saint woman when her Relief Society held a baby shower for a refugee mother in their community.
Her Relief Society presidency contacted a local refugee resettlement agency to find a mother they could help. Once they had been connected with a mother and her family, the presidency visited the home to ask how they could be of the most help. (An important part of the principle of humanity is honoring a refugee’s agency by asking how they would like to be helped and then sincerely listening.)
The Relief Society president suggested a baby shower, explaining it as a way to celebrate a new child and give gifts that the baby and mother may need. The refugee family agreed that would be helpful to them.
As the ward began planning the shower, one sister found she had a special “soft spot” for those who must come to a new home after her experience adopting a baby from Guatemala. During the long process of adoption, this sister had kept busy by making a quilt for her new baby. As she compared the experience of her own adopted son to this new refugee baby, she wanted to connect with the family by giving them the quilt she had made.
At the baby shower, this woman explained her connection to the refugee mother, describing how her young son also had to come to a new home and how they had loved wrapping him in the quilt when he arrived. The woman gave the refugee mother the quilt and said, “I hope that your new baby will love it too.”
The Principle of Impartiality
President Russell M. Nelson has taught:
“God does not love one race more than another. … He invites all to come unto Him, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female’ [2 Nephi 26:33]. …
“… Today I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice.”5
President Nelson’s words help explain the principle of impartiality. In our ministering, we shouldn’t make any distinction based on nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class, or political opinions. We serve others even if they’re different from us.
We see an example of impartiality in Christ’s parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10. The Samaritan, who was culturally an outcast among the Jews, didn’t hesitate to help someone from a different background. He even considered the injured man’s future and tried to do all that was necessary to secure him a successful recovery.
After relating this parable, Christ taught His disciples that the good Samaritan acted as a neighbor to the injured man by showing him mercy. Christ then instructed, “Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37).
The Principle of Independence
Independence in providing humanitarian aid means we serve without a personal agenda. Instead, we should serve to encourage independence and self-reliance. This may mean helping displaced people find ways to put their skills to use in their new communities or helping them learn skills such as how to speak a new language or how to interact using local cultural standards. As people become more independent, they have more control over their decisions, and they are better able to benefit society with their own skills.
One member from the United States, Nicole, asked some refugees in her area what they wanted to learn to be more independent in the community. They responded that they wanted to learn how to make American food. Nicole organized a time with other sisters in the ward to teach the refugees how to make homemade bread and rolls and provided them with the tools to make it at home. By teaching the refugees how to make the food themselves, Nicole helped the refugees become more independent in adapting to new ways of cooking.6
We can also promote independence by allowing those in need to help each other. While we can provide support, if those in need take initiative to help themselves and others, they build bonds with those they work with. This helps them build their communities and become a strength to each other.
Ministering More like the Savior
As Bishop Gérald Caussé, Presiding Bishop, said, “All of us living on this beautiful planet share a sacred responsibility to care for all of God’s children … , whoever they are and wherever they may be.”7 The most meaningful service often comes when we focus on the individuals in our communities.
One member who has found the blessings of building personal relationships with refugees stated, “Just being willing to reach out, help, and love them can make a big difference. And once you get to know a family, you realize that everyone has their own story.”8 Learning other people’s stories will help us see them as children of God and minister more as the Savior would.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions to this article of Sharon Eubank and Samantha Butterworth from Latter-day Saint Charities.
Opening image credit: Photograph from Getty Images
1. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “1 Per Cent of Humanity Displaced: UNHCR Global Trends Report,” June 18, 2020, unhcr.org.
2. Patrick Kearon, “Refuge from the Storm,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2016, 111.
3. Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Mormon Refugee Experience” (transcript), Sept. 12, 2016, newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
4. Email correspondence with Brett Macdonald, Sept. 10, 2020.
5. Russell M. Nelson, “Let God Prevail,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2020, 94.
6. See Nicole Johansen, “Baking Class for Congolese Refugees,” ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
7. Gérald Caussé, in “Bishop Caussé Gives Keynote Address at UN Conference in Geneva,” Sept. 17, 2019, newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
8. See Aubrey Eyre, “‘Reach Out and Help’ Resettled Refugees, Says Relief Society General President” (news story), June 21, 2019, ChurchofJesusChrist.org.