“Washington Saints Help Refugees Build New Lives,” Ensign, May 1979, 110–11
Seeds of caring are bringing forth fruits of conversion for Laotian refugees in two stakes in the Seattle, Washington, area.
The caring comes from Church members sensitive to the needs of the refugees, many of whom come to the United States after spending years in Thailand refugee camps. They own little more than the clothes they wear when they arrive.
Although government and private agencies help the refugees, Church members are finding many ways to give additional help. That aid includes classes in English, employment assistance, and friendship. Some Laotians helped by members of the Church have chosen to study the gospel and be baptized.
Actually, the seeds of this concern were planted years ago in the Midwest, when townspeople came to the aid of a couple whose home had burned. The helpful neighbors were Church members—which interested the nonmember couple, Ralph and Charlotte Yeakley. The Yeakleys were soon baptized. They later extended their caring to three adopted Korean children.
The Yeakleys had moved to Bellevue, Washington, near Seattle, when they became aware of the needs of Laotian refugees who had recently arrived in the United States. They wrote the United States government to find out how they could help. Through a Jewish relief organization, the Yeakleys sponsored a Laotian family. When this family told them of other families who needed help, the Yeakleys enlisted support from ward members.
Members of the Church helped provide clothing and other needed aid for the refugees. A woman who had moved to California donated her home furnishings, which were stored in Seattle.
As the Yeakleys learned of more and more refugee families, Sister Yeakley asked President Alva C. Snow of the Washington Seattle Mission for assistance.
“When Sister Yeakley came to see me, she had just taken some Laotian women shopping so they could buy their food,” says President Snow. “They had been too frightened to leave their houses, and so she took them.” Sister Yeakley was, at the time, pregnant with her seventh child.
President Snow has since helped Church leaders find ways for Church members and full-time missionaries to help the Laotians.
Many Laotians live within the Seattle First Ward Boundaries. Members invited Laotians over for holiday dinners. Ward mission leader Ward Keller has put many miles on his motor home giving Laotians rides to church and other activities. He has also arranged for use of a building in the Laotians’ neighborhood, so that the Laotians can have classes and church services nearby.
To make language less of a barrier in the Laotians’ adjustment to American culture, missionaries are teaching them English. The first missionary enlisted to teach the Laotians was an elder originally sent to Thailand but reassigned to the Washington Seattle Mission. Returned missionaries who knew Thai were located and they agreed to help. In March, two missionaries serving in Thailand were assigned to spend the last several months of their missions in the Washington Seattle Mission teaching the Laotians. The missionaries speak Thai, which is similar to Laotian. Interested Laotians receive gospel lessons, as well, from the missionaries. Church materials printed in Thai are provided. Of the several hundred refugees, at least fifty have been taught about the gospel. Between twenty-five and thirty-five attend the branch church meetings.
The fruits of these efforts? Nine refugees were baptized in a bilingual baptismal service in March. Many of their relatives and friends attended—including Sister Yeakley. She, however, had to leave the service early. Two hours later, her seventh child was born.
More Laotians are being taught by missionaries and helped by members. Even so, the work is only beginning, says President Snow, who has watched the refugees arrive. “I saw family after family unload,” he said, “—Laotian people transplanted from their homes, who had left everything in the world behind. They need desperately the message and the love we have to offer in the Church.”