The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its humanitarian arm, Latter-day Saint Charities, were ready to help refugees from Eastern Europe at the start of the crisis in Ukraine, and the two are committed in Europe — as they have been around the globe — to help people for the long term in rebuilding their societies.
Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency and president of Latter-day Saint Charities, also underscored three basic principles to engage in more effective humanitarian outreach as she spoke Friday, March 4, to a group of international thought leaders.
As a worldwide organization, the Church of Jesus Christ feels the pain of conflict everywhere, with a major current focus on Europe with the developments and aftermath of armed conflict, she said.
“We have members in all the countries affected,” Sister Eubank said. “We have members in Russia who are feeling the difficult effects of sanctions. We have members in Poland and Germany and Slovakia and Hungary and Moldova and Russia. They’re all receiving enormous amounts of refugees and generously giving the help that they can. And we have members in Ukraine who are facing impossible choices in the destruction of their beautiful country.”
She spoke at the plenary session of the virtual Horasis USA Meeting, led by Abe Nejad, Network Media Group publisher. Horasis is an independent think tank based in Zurich, Switzerland; Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke at a Horasis event in Portugal five years ago.
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Reserve funds and quick response
Sister Eubank explained that a two-year reserve funding held by Latter-day Saint Charities allows the organization to respond quickly to crises. The funding comes from the donations of Latter-day Saints and friends of the Church.
With funding in place, Latter-day Saint Charities was positioned with food and water several weeks in advance, she said. “It allows us to be right on the border with what the people need and be responsive because the needs change every single day as the situation goes forward.”
And similar to its other projects worldwide, the Church is committed to the affected European countries’ long-term needs, Sister Eubank said.
“The disaster is only the very beginning,” she said. “What we really care about is helping people spiritually, emotionally and physically recover and build their societies back. That’s the commitment from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
3 principles of effective humanitarian outreach
Sister Eubank cited three principles to engage in more effective humanitarian outreach — choice, the dignity of meaningful work, and the unifying power of cooperation.
Referencing a wintertime photo of a young woman in northern Iraq holding a donated blanket of fake pink fur, Sister Eubank said that while it might not have been the most practical choice, the point was that the woman had a choice.
“The ability for her to choose has been taken away from her in so many ways. She can’t pick what she eats, where she lives, how she worships, or who she’s with,” she said. “And a small thing, even like a coat and protecting her ability to choose that, is one way of restoring the dignity and the ability for self-determination that has been ripped away in a disaster.”
2. The dignity of meaningful work
Sister Eubank cited another example from Iraq, after the city of Mosul was liberated from ISIS forces. Latter-day Saint Charities assisted a Chaldean priest get a school running again by helping the schoolchildren’s parents build the school themselves.
“So here you had these middle-aged fathers who had never picked up a power tool before, but they’re welding the frames and they put the wood on the top,” she said. “And at the end, when those polished desks were finished and their little children were sitting in them, they’re standing at the back, they are filled with pride. They’re filled with ‘I did this. I provided. I’m not a failure. I provided this for my family. And if we can get together as a community to build desks, what else can we do?’ ”
3. The unifying power of cooperation
Saying voluntary service is not being used to its full potential, Sister Eubank pointed to JustServe, a free app that helps communities come together in service.
“People are the heart of the solution,” she said, adding that cooperative activities remind that all are children of the same God. “Faith communities are perfectly positioned to do this because we’re very good at trying to make humanity come together and achieve a larger goal.”
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A call to recognize and to balance
Sister Eubank issued call call to governments and policymakers to recognize the role of religions faith communities in humanitarian response. “The good that religion can do, especially when it comes to integration and achieving sustainable development, is amplified when religious groups work with government and nongovernmental organizations,” she said.
She also asked journalists to balance religion reporting with “stories of goodness, humanity, faith in God and cooperation” and invited meeting participants to commit themselves to living the Savior's two great commandments — love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves.
“It will take authentic religion to approach radical problems,” Sister Eubank said. “Authentic Islam will be much better at combating some of the elements that may be destructive. Authentic Christianity will be better at reaching toward radical elements of [Christianity]. This is the opportunity that we have. Faith is actually the answer.”