Ambassador calls Church a friend, gives thanks for aid

Two years ago, the Church sent rice and other humanitarian aid to help the Lao People's Democratic Republic recover from flooding. The country's ambassador, Hiem Phommachanh, thanked Church leaders for the service during a visit to Utah July 18-21.

The Utah Centennial Commission invited Ambassador Phommachanh - and about 50 other ambassadors - to visit the state in commemoration of Utah's 100th year of statehood.During his four-day visit, Ambassador Phommachanh attended a luncheon at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building with Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, both of the Quorum of the Twelve. The ambassador expressed gratitude, in behalf of the Lao government, for the humanitarian assistance from the Church.

The visiting diplomat called the Church " a friend" and said the aid to his people is a symbol of hope and worldwide brotherhood.

"Especially when you are in a difficult time, if you receive something from a friend you sure appreciate that," he said. "We need to love each other and to help each other."

The ambassador requested to visit the Church Sort Center and Welfare Square - to see a small part of the Church's humanitarian systems in action.

He said the motivation for the centers, and the rest of the Church's welfare system, must "come from the heart."

"They are teaching people to love each other, helping them to have a better life," he said, making note that the Church not only uses the centers to provide food and clothing for the needy, but also provides language training for members of the Salt Lake community who cannot find jobs because they do not know English. The ambassador also noted that many Utahns who receive Church aid are provided an opportunity to work for it.

He called the centers "big" and "very interesting."

He said he would like to see humanitarian programs, similar to the Church's program, in other places.

Larry R. White, chairman of the Lao ambassador's visit committee and former mission president of the Thailand Bangkok Mission, accompanied Ambassador Phommachanh during his visit and said the Lao diplomat enjoyed meeting with Church leaders and learning more about the Church's welfare system.

While touring the Sort Center, Ambassador Phommachanh met John and Nancy Burgoyne. The dentist and his wife will move to Laos in October to do humanitarian service and train dentists in the country.

Brother White said the ambassador was "favorably impressed" that the Burgoynes would volunteer to share their knowledge with his people.

Later the Ambassador visited BYU. There, Brother White said, he commented that "all the students looked very well groomed."

"I met with Laotian students

at BYUT as well," said Ambassador Phommachanh. "I asked them if they were happy at the university. They are happy. They have a lot of opportunity to learn what they need."

Also during his visit to Utah, Ambassador Phommachanh watched the movie "Legacy"; went on a tour of the Church Family Search center; met with Salt Lake City officials and Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt; ate dinner with former U.S. Ambassador to Singapore Jon Huntsman Jr., and other prominent business leaders; visited This Is the Place State Park, Utah Valley State College and Novell Computer Co.; and talked to Lao and Hmong community members and leaders.

Ambassador Phommachanh said he was pleased to visit Utah. "I learned a lot of things," he said. "Utah is a triumph of man over nature - a city on the desert is not a common thing. Utah, especially Salt Lake City, is very beautiful. I feel very comfortable in the city."

He added that he learned the pioneers had to "work very, very hard" to settle the state. "I appreciate that very much," he noted. "I think we can learn many, many things from the pioneers."

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