Refugees: “What If Their Story Were My Story?”

refugees women's session ldsAs I sat in the congregation of the Conference Center, waiting for the women’s general session of General Conference to start, I was overwhelmed with the Spirit and with gratitude. My friend from Mormon Women Stand, Kathryn Skaggs, came from out of state to attend and offered tickets to me and my daughter.  It was a wonderful time to finally meet her face to face and to bask in the counsel we were about to receive from Church leaders.  I was amazed at how beautiful the pink flowers were and the pink and red lights illuminating the area behind the angelic choir.  I was humbled as I watched scores of women and girls of all ages gather together for this historic meeting, in such a beautiful building.  I knew in my heart we were all in for a magnificent feast and I was not disappointed.

The choir sang and I was overcome by the love that I felt for my beautiful daughter who I have known for her entire life, and also for my new friend, Kathryn, after having met her just moments earlier. As the choir sang, “I am a Child of God” and “Love One Another,” I could not keep the tears from falling.  Surrounded by faithful and radiating women and girls, Daughters of the Most High God, I felt love for them.  One by one, the speakers touched my spirit and even pricked my heart.  I felt myself being gently called to repentance while simultaneously being inspired and lifted with new ideas and generous thoughts.  I knew that the words I was hearing were inspired and I knew they were true.  Each testimony, each video, each song, pierced my soul.

The video, telling the story from the journal of Elizabeth Haven Barlow, struck a blow to my comfort and to my–pride. I realized in a way unlike any other time before, that the early Saints were indeed refugees, constantly driven to and fro, burying loved ones along their journey to a safe, new home.  The very home where today I shop, dine, and go to doctor’s appointments with not enough thought or consideration for what they did to make my beautiful city of Salt Lake City blossom as the rose.

Today, there are lost and lonely people everywhere it seems, refugees, displaced from home and country, and even family and friends.  When Sister Linda K. Burton offered the question, “what if their story were my story?” I felt myself unable to hold back the emotions.  “What if,” I asked myself, “these people on the news night after night–the families and children stranded and alone, orphaned and forgotten; what if their story really were my story?”  While spending comfortable evenings inside a beautiful home with my soft nightgown, fuzzy slippers, plenty of food and clean clothing, and overflowing bookshelves, I had actually taken for granted the urgency of the need to help “the very least of these.”

 

Then, there I was one day in Sacrament Meeting when the bishop read the First Presidency Letter, signed by our living prophets and apostles, asking Church members to help these Children of God, in any way we could.  What was wrong with me that I had to be reminded in a letter from the prophet about what Jesus would want me to do, and more importantly, how He would want me to feel about these displaced and suffering people? I needed to repent.  I really did.  And I was blessed with a changed and softened heart.  I wanted to go to Greece and stop little boys from washing up on the shore, now only remembered as a photo in a magazine.  But my dilemma was now, “what could I do, just little old me?”

Maybe you are like me and were in need of repentance for the way you might have felt about so many suffering people in the world. Maybe you were miles ahead of me and were already on the move to help.  I am grateful I heard the Savior’s call for me to change my heart.  I am thrilled to sit at the feet of inspired prophets and apostles and other chosen servants of the Lord, to hear what the Lord would have us do.  I know that Sister Burton speaks the truth when she asks us to consider the question, “what if their story were my story?”  Doesn’t it sound just like something Jesus would say?

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat:  I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink:  I was a stranger, and ye took me in:  Naked, and ye clothed me:  I was sick, and ye visited me:  I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee?  or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we a stranger, and took thee in?  or naked, and clothed ye?  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”   — Matthew 25: 35-40

For me, I am easily overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem of so many people who need our help, but that is just the beauty of belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We don’t have to do this alone.  We have millions of brothers and sisters to unite with us in this effort.  The Relief Society is the largest organized women’s organization in the world.  We have the power to do tremendous things!  I am excited about participating with the sisters of the Church as we work together and I am just as happy about the opportunity as one small sister, to help in my own sphere–my own little corner of the universe.

I don’t have to get on a plane to serve the displaced refugees. I can, yes, but there is a lot for me to do right here at home.  In regard to my own little family, I can still say, “what if their story were my story?”  It changes the way we serve each other, to ask that simple question.  I love the admonition to not run faster than we have the strength and to do things in wisdom and in order.  For me, the inspiration has come to work outward and allow my circle of influence to grow.  I can always work a little harder in supporting the people immediately in my stewardship as a wife and mother.  I can make sure I continue to nurture loving relationships with grown children.  I can remember that even after all these years, my husband still benefits from a smile and simply holding my hand.  I can make sure our gospel discussions at home continue to be inspiring and encouraging.  I can make sure to never stop bearing my testimony to my family.

I can seek to build up the people in my extended family. Surely I can try a little harder to remember birthdays and offer invitations to help and serve them.  A home-cooked meal is always a good idea, even if it’s a simple one, to bring loved ones around for sharing and just being together.

I can make sure I’m serving with a smile at church. Sometimes it is too easy to drudge along the walls of the hallways at church, as if to say, “I’m tired, and I don’t feel well–can’t you see?” Instead, what if I tried to make sure I get enough rest on Saturday night so I am more able to notice someone who might need a smile or an encouraging word?  I can be patient with the children and the youth.  I can offer support and understanding to the young mothers.  I can look for the sister sitting alone, week after week, and try to be her friend.  I can faithfully love and serve the sisters I visit teach.

I can go out into the community as a Witness of Christ. I can be patient at the grocery store when the machine runs out of tape.  I can give up the choice parking space.  I can try to understand what might cause someone to say a harsh word and offer a prayer for them.  I can refrain from judging–period.  I can keep my eyes open, but more importantly, I can open up my heart to think of others, even those I haven’t yet met, and try to think about, “what if their story were my story?”

I can serve in the temple. It costs nothing in a monetary sense, but it means the possibility of eternal salvation for each soul whose name is remembered there.  Eternal help for the ultimate refugees.  I really can go more often.  There is no better feeling than serving in the temple.  And an added benefit might be the extra inspiration the Lord has promised me if I serve in His Holy House.

I can seek to be prayerful about the bigger needs the Lord might ask me to help with. Sister Burton spoke of praying and earnestly seeking inspiration about who to serve and how and when.  I know the Lord will guide us to those who need us, if we are striving to keep our covenants and if we are truly willing to go where He needs us to go.  If I am reluctant to serve, it’s possible I might not be inspired to.  I believe the Lord wants us to be fully committed and then He will give us the assignment.

Surely, everywhere I look now, I am asking myself “what if their story were my story?” In the few short days since this session of the conference, this one simple question has given me a whole new perspective.  It really does help me see that we are all refugees–every one of us–for we are all brothers and sisters, and we all desperately need the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  Asking this new question all day long, in every situation we’re in, has the capacity to completely change our lives; it has the capacity to change our thinking and our priorities, to attach us to the Savior and increase our love for Him in a whole new way.  It makes everything more personal and we feel more connected.

When I am quiet and I study and I feel the Spirit teach me, I know that I am a refugee.  I can’t make it back to live with my Heavenly Father alone.  I have to rely on the saving power of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ performed on my behalf, and yours.  I have to repent of all my sins and mistakes and strive every single day to keep my covenants, to testify of my Lord, to keep the commandments, and to remember Him.  I believe I remember Him when I also remember that He loves us all and He is counting on us to be His Hands.  I think the Savior really knew how to answer the question, “what if their story were my story,” because He truly lived and felt and suffered for every soul’s story, on that miraculous day in Gethsemane.  Christ loves us and He is asking us to love each other.  A little bit more.

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Gina Holt

Gina Holt

I am a happy wife and adoring mother of two, a son and a daughter.I'm an artist and a writer.I think good books are a gift and I love to read.I'm intrigued with cooking, experimenting with new recipes, especially for Indian food.I'm happiest when I'm with my family and even happier if they are playing their bluegrass music together.I think I was meant to live by the ocean, but living by the Great Salt Lake is the next best thing; you should see the sunsets!I feel excited to belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes me happy and gives me hope.
Gina Holt

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About Gina Holt

I am a happy wife and adoring mother of two, a son and a daughter. I'm an artist and a writer. I think good books are a gift and I love to read. I'm intrigued with cooking, experimenting with new recipes, especially for Indian food. I'm happiest when I'm with my family and even happier if they are playing their bluegrass music together. I think I was meant to live by the ocean, but living by the Great Salt Lake is the next best thing; you should see the sunsets! I feel excited to belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes me happy and gives me hope.

6 thoughts on “Refugees: “What If Their Story Were My Story?”

  1. A.

    This was so good. I loved it all! I never thought of being a “refugee” until I read your last paragraph. Beautiful!

  2. Darla Gaylor

    I have had some spiritual moments since conference, too. And a few spiritual “gut checks,” too. Some equally conservative friends of mine were unsettled by the call to help what is very often perceived, and sometimes rightfully so, “refugees” that could be merely seeking easier ways to harm others. We all gnashed our teeth against our politics versus this edict from above. I did a lot ( a LOT) of soul searching and decided that I may very rightfully hold to some issues regarding legal immigration and the use of our public resources, but I can’t hold to those same reasons when it comes to withholding my personal love and assistance to my fellow brothers and sisters in need. My service and the extension of compassion should not be bound by my politics. I considered this was perhaps “hard doctrine” for the conservatives, whereas the handbook “changes” are the same for the liberals. God truly is no respecter of persons!

    Seriously, we all know in our hearts that the Savior would not be standing on the side lines discussing how his political leanings should give him an exemption from loving service and compassion. I can only imagine, knowing the seeds of distrust that were there at the time, how the residents of Quincy, IL felt taking in so many LDS refugees fleeing from MO, and yet they did it. What would have happened to so many if they hadn’t opened their arms to us? Can we stand by and ignore the cries of others, even if some are trixters, or worse yet, evil? I’m feeling less and less so.

  3. Darla Gaylor

    I have had some spiritual moments since conference, too. And a few spiritual “gut checks,” too. Some equally conservative friends of mine were unsettled by the call to help what is very often perceived, and sometimes rightfully so, “refugees” that could be merely seeking easier ways to harm others. We all gnashed our teeth against our politics versus this edict from above. I did a lot ( a LOT) of soul searching and decided that I may very rightfully hold to some issues regarding legal immigration and the use of our public resources, but I can’t hold to those same reasons when it comes to withholding my personal love and assistance to my fellow brothers and sisters in need. My service and the extension of compassion should not be bound by my politics. I considered this was perhaps “hard doctrine” for the conservatives, whereas the handbook “changes” are the same for the liberals. God truly is no respecter of persons!

    Seriously, we all know in our hearts that the Savior would not be standing on the side lines discussing how his political leanings should give him an exemption from loving service and compassion. I can only imagine, knowing the seeds of distrust that were there at the time, how the residents of Quincy, IL felt taking in so many LDS refugees fleeing from MO, and yet they did it. What would have happened to so many if they hadn’t opened their arms to us? Can we stand by and ignore the cries of others, even if some are trixters, or worse yet, evil? I’m feeling less and less so.

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