Sister Burton: 'I Was a Stranger'

The Church’s Relief Society general president asked Latter-day Saint women on March 26 to “serve the refugees living in your neighborhoods and communities.”

“There are more than 60 million refugees including forcibly displaced people worldwide. Half of those are children,” said Sister Linda K. Burton. “These individuals have undergone tremendous difficulties and are starting over in new countries and cultures. While there are sometimes organizations that help them with a place to live and basic necessities, what they need is a friend and ally who can help them adjust to their new home, a person who can help them learn the language, understand the systems, and feel connected.”

Speaking during the General Women’s Session of the Church’s 186th Annual General Conference, Sister Burton asked Relief Society sisters worldwide to “prayerfully determine what you can do according to your own time and circumstance” for refugees.

“This is an opportunity to serve one-on-one, in families, and by organization to offer friendship, mentoring, and other Christlike service and is one of many ways sisters can serve,” she said.

Sister Burton said on the day Relief Society was organized, Emma Smith declared, “We are going to do something extraordinary. … We expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls” (Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society, p. 14).

Those pressing calls and extraordinary occasions presented themselves frequently then — as they do now, Sister Burton added.

One came in the October 1856 general conference as President Brigham Young announced to the congregation that handcart pioneers were in distress, prompting the women to remove everything they could spare right there in the Tabernacle and load them into wagons for those in need.

“Several weeks later, President Brigham Young gathered the Saints again in the old Tabernacle as the rescuers and the handcart companies got closer to Salt Lake City. With great urgency, he pleaded with the Saints — especially the sisters — to nurse the sufferers, feed them, and receive them,” explained Sister Burton.

Lucy Meserve Smith recorded: “I never took more satisfaction and, I might say, pleasure in any labor I ever performed in my life, such a unanimity of feeling prevailed. … What comes next for willing hands to do?”

To the women of the Church, Sister Burton said, “My beloved sisters, this account might be likened to our day and those who are suffering throughout the world.” Speaking of refugees, she added, “Another extraordinary occasion touches our hearts.”

Sister Burton said last summer she met Sister Yvette Bugingo, who at age 11 fled from place to place after her father was killed and three of her brothers went missing in a war-torn part of the world. “Yvette and the remaining family members eventually lived for six and a half years as refugees in a neighboring country until they were able to move to a permanent home where they were blessed by a caring couple who helped with transportation, schools, and other things,” said Sister Burton, noting that Yvette’s mother and sister were at the General Women’s Session and singing in the choir. “I have wondered many times since meeting these wonderful women, ‘What if their story were my story?’ ”

Sister Burton said the women of the Church make up more than half of the Lord’s storehouse to help Heavenly Father’s children. “His storehouse is not composed just of goods but also of time, talents, skills, and our divine nature.”

A First Presidency letter sent to the Church on October 27, 2015, expressed great concern and compassion for the millions of people who have fled their homes seeking relief from civil conflict and other hardships, Sister Burton explained. The First Presidency invited individuals, families, and Church units to participate in Christlike service in local refugee relief projects, and to contribute to the Church humanitarian fund, where practical.

“The general presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary have considered how to respond to the First Presidency’s invitation. We know that you, our beloved sisters of all ages, come from all walks of life and live in varied circumstances. Each member of this worldwide sisterhood has covenanted at baptism to ‘comfort those that stand in need of comfort’ (Mosiah 4:27). Yet we must remember that none of us should run faster than we have strength.”

With these truths in mind, the Church has organized the “I Was a Stranger” relief effort, she said.

“Sisters, we know that reaching out to others with love matters to the Lord.”

Sister Burton said that at the funeral for a stake Relief Society president, a speaker recalled the woman working with others in her stake to contribute quilts to suffering people in Kosovo during the 1990s. “And like the good Samaritan, she went out of her way to do more as she and her daughter drove a truck filled with those quilts from London to Kosovo. On her journey home, she received an unmistakable spiritual impression that sank deep into her heart. The impression was this: ‘What you have done is a very good thing. Now go home, walk across the street, and serve your neighbor!’

“The funeral was filled with additional inspiring accounts of how this faithful woman recognized and responded to the extraordinary and pressing calls — and also the ordinary occasions — of those within her sphere of influence.”

Latter-day Saint women can be assured of Heavenly Father’s help as they get down on their knees and ask for divine guidance to bless His children, Sister Burton said. “Heavenly Father; our Savior, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost are ready to help.”

Closing, Sister Burton said, “As we consider the pressing calls of those who need our help, let’s ask ourselves, ‘What if their story were my story?’ May we then seek inspiration, act on impressions we receive, and reach out in unity to help those in need as we are able and inspired to do so.”

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