In 2015, the First Presidency urged Latter-day Saints to assist with the refugee crisis affecting millions around the world. That crisis continues today. Here are 4 simple ways you can help.
They come from all over—Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America, and many more places. With at least 45 million refugees fleeing from civil war, religious persecution, and other dire circumstances, the need for good people to assist them in rebuilding their lives is greater than ever. Donating to LDS Charities is always a great and effective way to assist in the efforts, but for those who are unable to donate or who want to do more, here are some additional ideas.
1. Become their friends.
“The single greatest thing Church members can do is to befriend refugees,” says Rick Foster of LDS Charities. "Of all people, Mormons should understand what it’s like to be driven from their homes. We have been refugees ourselves.” (To help young children gain compassion and understanding for refugees, read "Coats and New Friends" from the Friend magazine as a family.)
2. Educate yourself and others.
"Ignorance drives suspicion, fear, and misunderstanding," says Foster. “Take the time to better understand their plight—where they are coming from and why they are here. As we come to understand the challenges they face, our suspicions will melt away, and a more charitable, more giving heart will emerge."
According to LDS Charities, an average of 70,000 refugees enter the United States each year. And while such a statistic might frighten citizens who worry about terrorists or the spreading of diseases, Foster assures, "The U.S. Department of State and Department of Homeland Security ensure that all refugees undergo an extensive screening process, including status qualification, background, security, and medical screenings."
He continues, "People might wonder, 'Why are we bringing these people here? Don’t we have enough people on welfare and enough homelessness?' As it states in the scriptures, there will always be poor among us, and there is a purpose for that: to allow both the giver and the receiver to grow. Hopefully, the end result is that these individuals become self-reliant and diversify the fabric of our community in a very productive and meaningful way. With a little help and stabilization, those who require assistance quickly become positive contributing members of a community. It’s similar to the Church's welfare program—we all come upon hard times, and we rally around one another and move forward. The hope is that as people stabilize their lives and become self-reliant, they can in turn reach out and bless the lives of others."
3. Employ refugees and frequent their businesses.
"There is a misconception that all refugees are illiterate or uneducated and come with no work skills," says Foster. "In truth, many refugees are well educated and thrived in vocations in their previous countries. Gratefully, they arrive on our shores ready to work and contribute to our society in wonderful ways. Give them jobs when possible, and give them your business."
4. Seek service opportunities in your community.
"There are many opportunities to volunteer," Foster explains. "Over the last several weeks, my mother has been creating beautiful receiving blankets and matching burp cloths that she donates to agencies that support refugees within our community."
Service projects like these will vary from community to community. But since LDS Charities partners with several of the federally authorized resettlement agencies listed below, there are many ways to get involved. Check out their websites to search for opportunities in your area:
- Church World Service
- Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
- Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services
- U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
- World Relief Corporation
- International Rescue Committee
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
With nearly 70,000 refugees in Salt Lake City, there are many opportunities for local Church members to serve. Deb Coffey, director of the Utah Refugee Center, says, "I consider myself lucky to have worked side by side with members of the LDS Church on several refugee humanitarian projects right here in Salt Lake City. Once I am able to convey the need and show how their support can make a difference in the lives of a refugee family, the response is overwhelming. Church members always far exceed my expectations." (Click here for ways to serve and items to donate.)
She continues, "We have so many talented people among us, and it's amazing for me to see how providing vision, coordinating, and offering support where needed can bring a ward together to support a great cause. It's the best part of my job. I am also grateful for the relationships that are built and developed through these projects and how even after the project is complete, people still contact me year after year to continue their service."
"When we were baptized, we made a covenant to bear one another’s burdens—not just within the Church, but among our brothers and sisters globally," Foster adds. "This refugee crisis provides an opportunity for us to live that covenant in a way that we might not have thought of before. Reaching out to help may be intimidating and uncomfortable, but it will allow us to be true disciples of Christ by helping to bear the burdens of perhaps the most misunderstood, exploited, and vulnerable population on the earth today."
Watch LDS Charities director Sharon Eubank bring a wheelchair to a young Syrian refugee who was shot and paralyzed while fleeing.
Lead image from iStock