Addressing an audience at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London, England, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called on non-governmental organisations (NGOs), governments and faith groups to refocus their efforts in responding to the personal and family crises suffered by refugees and internally displaced people.
Elder Holland told the Chatham House gathering, “In the past, charitable institutions have provided financial support, medical treatment, and other physical needs for refugee victims, all of which are still needed. But we now understand that we must look to emotional and spiritual needs as well.”
The Latter-day Saint apostle was invited to participate by Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, Chair of AMAR International Charitable Foundation, who works closely with LDS Charities on global humanitarian outreach.
Citing the severe persecution experienced by the Yazidi people in Northern Iraq (which includes sexual abuse and torture), Elder Holland said, “Every community has different challenges and different reasons for their resilience in facing them. For many, especially a tightly-knit faith-based community like the Yazidis, their faith is the one crucial resource that will allow them to pull deeply from the wellsprings of life that are sacred to their tradition.
“It is just as precious to them as water, food, and air. By preserving a person’s faith, we help preserve their future.”
Elder Holland underlined that the oppression of Yazidis is further complicated by the fact that Yazidism is greatly misunderstood as a religion and tends to be kept at arm’s length by other institutions and organizations. Drawing modern parallels from 19th-century history, he referred to the early Latter-day Saint refugee experience.
“I do not pretend my people’s experiences are the same as what we see happening in so many places today. However, all refugees share some common denominators of grief and suffering, so perhaps there is some insight buried in the persecution of my ancestors nearly two centuries ago.
“Things reached crisis levels in 1838 when Governor Lilburn W. Boggs of Missouri issued his infamous ‘Extermination Order’ declaring that ‘Mormons’ were in fact enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state. In fact, I stand before you as an officer of the only church in United States history which has had an ‘extermination order’ issued against it.”
Windsor summit and meeting at United Kingdom Parliament
The Chatham House event followed this year’s third Windsor conference, held at Cumberland Lodge, that addressed the topic "Religious Persecution—The Driver for Forced Migration." The event was attended by senior academics; humanitarian practitioners; and faith leaders including Canon Dr. Edmund Newell, principal of Cumberland Lodge. The Lord Bishop of Derby, Rt. Revd. Dr. Alastair Redfern, provided significant input to the conference report.
Baroness Nicholson, whose organisation supported the Windsor summit in association with LDS Charities, thanked AMAR Patron HRH The Prince of Wales for his “keen interest from the start of this initiative” which “stems from his deep concern for those in difficulty with freedom to worship, and other significant deprivations that impact on life and liberty, such as the suffering of the Yazidi people.”
“Partnership across faiths and nationalities is key to the future success of the Windsor Dialogue. The unique partnership between AMAR International Charity Foundation and LDS Charities is at the heart of the dialogue, which is fulfilled in reality through shared work for and with the Yazidis in their temporary United Nations-supplied camps. The United Nations cannot do everything; so AMAR and LDS Charities, assisted by individual and company donations, work intensively and continuously to bridge the wide gulf between need and actuality.”
Windsor conference attendee Sister Sharon Eubank, president of LDS Charities, highlighted the vital need for all refugees to have their spirits refreshed by a continuous connection to their faith. “I’ve spoken before about the often-overlooked work of re-supplying religiously significant items to communities. LDS Charities is sponsored by a Christian church, but we could easily understand the importance and comfort of Holy Qurans and prayer rugs for a mosque flooded during the Southeast Asia tsunami. Or the desire of older Yazidi women who were not able to replace their white traditional dresses, worn in part as religious clothing. LDS Charities supplied sewing machines and fabric so Yazidi tailors could sew the dresses in the prescribed way. These are items that may not have made the most urgent list for physical aid, but they are extremely important for emotional and spiritual health.”
Elder Holland, Baroness Nicholson, and Sister Eubank also participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict, held at the United Kingdom’s Parliament.