Just reading and watching stories about the millions of refugees makes my heart hurt.
So when I heard our Church leaders focus on it in our General Conference recently, my heart rejoiced.
A friend texted me during Elder Patrick Kearon’s talk and said, “I just LOVE this new emphasis on refugees in the church! So much need. So Christian. Makes me proud of my church!”
I couldn’t agree more.
Sixty million refugees is unfathomable.
It’s one thing to watch the news and read the stories about groups of people fleeing a country because of war or persecution. It’s another to know and try to understand their individual stories.
My Mormon history is full of stories of my ancestors being driven out of their homes by people who opposed their religious views.
For me, personally, I can hear references to the persecution experienced by the Mormons in the 1800s and feel quite removed from it, but it becomes a lot more real when I consider the impact that persecution had on my family.
In 1844, Mormons built the city of Nauvoo, Illinois into a prosperous and beautiful city. But, people worried about the political and economic power being amassed by this growing group of people.
This led to Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, and his brother, Hyrum being wrongly accused of treason and sent to jail.
Both were murdered by angry mobs that stormed the jail.
Hyrum was my great, great, great grandfather.
He was shot in the face and killed by a bullet that was fired through the door of the jail.
I cannot forget the stories of how his wife, Mary Fielding, took the news or how his three-year-old daughter, Martha Ann, my great, great grandmother remembered being wrapped in a blanket and carried to see her dead father and uncle.
Because of the continued violence, Mary and her children were forced to leave Nauvoo.
Martha Ann said, “We left our home just as it was, our furniture, and the fruit trees hanging full of rosy cheeked peaches and apples. We bid good-bye to the loved home that reminded us of our beloved father everywhere we turned.”
This is not unlike what is happening across the world.
Mary Fielding and her children crossed the Mississippi River and huddled around a campfire on the bank of the river as they listened to the bombardment of the city of Nauvoo.
Maybe it’s that heritage that makes me so sympathetic to the plight of today’s refugees.
One of our leaders, Linda K. Burton, recited the history of the LDS women’s organization, called The Relief Society, saying it was organized “to do something extraordinary.” She conveyed the message that we are expected, as members of the Church, to do the extraordinary by answering the pressing calls to help.
In response to that reminder, church members immediately searched for ways to help.
This week, in my role as a public affairs representative for the Church, I met with local leaders of Catholic Charities, an organization that is doing amazing work to help the refugees.
They told us they were a bit overwhelmed with the calls from Mormons, asking what they could do to help. “A good problem to have,” they agreed.
I think we were all moved by Linda Burton’s question, “What if their story were my story?”
In many ways, the stories of today’s refugees are our stories. Many of us have stories in our families and our cultures of people fleeing their homes to escape war and religious persecution.
And, we all have a responsibility to help.
I loved Elder Patrick Kearon’s comment, “This moment does not define the refugees, but our response will help define us.”
I hope this moment will help define me in a positive and powerful way as a disciple of Jesus Christ who responds to the call to serve.
How will it define you?
To listen to Elder Kearon’s talk click here.