When Sister Cynthia Juárez Lange’s father came to the United States to study, he was leaving a rough railroad town in the jungles of southern Mexico, and only had a few items of clothing in a cardboard suitcase.
He went to Utah, where the climate, culture and landscape were completely foreign to him.
“I remember him saying he was forever grateful for the good people that stepped forward to help him integrate and become a part of the community. He felt valued,” said Sister Lange.
She said her father completed his education and started a successful business with grit and determination, helping his family and contributing to his community.
“I witnessed first-hand what it felt like for immigrants to feel integrated and welcomed into a community,” Sister Lange said.
She shared the story this week at the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California, which is a series of periodic meetings of democratically elected leaders of the Western Hemisphere.
Sister Lange and her husband, Elder Dennis Lange, are missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Organization of American States, representing Latter-day Saint Charities and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University.
In the panel discussion on Tuesday, June 7, titled “Improving Migrants’ Integration in the Americas,” Sister Lange explained that many people today are fleeing danger and persecution in their hometowns and are seeking refuge.
They bring talent, capital and drive, she said. But when a migrant first arrives, much of their needs center around dignity and information.
The Church has provided shelter and medical care, assembled many thousands of hygiene kits, provided food and water, clothing, waterproof coats, bicycles, books, backpacks, reading glasses, and much more, said Sister Lange.
She outlined how the Church of Jesus Christ and other faith-based organizations have established Welcome Centers in major cities with high immigrant populations. The centers teach English and cultural adaptation, and have classes on everything from personal finances and mental health to understanding the justice system and educational opportunities.
Read more: How the Church’s welcome centers are helping to bless the lives of immigrants and refugees
“When faith-based organizations step in, we need to be sensitive to the migrant’s condition. Not only do we help care for immediate needs by providing clothing, housing, food, backpacks to store their items, but we also help long term needs,” she said.
As with her father’s experience with good neighbors, Sister Lange said the Church believes the second greatest commandment is to love one’s neighbor — “But this is more than a commandment to us, it’s a passion and we believe a true source of Joy in our lives. We serve all of God’s children,” she said.
Sharing the Church’s humanitarian work
Elder and Sister Lange have been involved in the Summit of the Americas for the past few months, specifically with two working groups about fostering democratic governance and health and resilience in the region.
Other representatives from the Church were also involved in working group meetings. Samuel Morales and Cristina Ortega with their law backgrounds participated in the fostering democratic governance group. Karen Rodas, the director of communication from the Church’s Central America Area, and Guillermo Estrugo Nery, the director of communication for the Church’s South America Northwest Area, were invited to represent their area’s humanitarian priorities as it relates to health and resilience.
These working groups — conducted in English and Spanish — were created to support the theme of the summit which was “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future” for the hemisphere.
The Langes were also invited to host a booth at the summit’s initiative fair. The booth included a touch-screen display where people could see what projects the Church through Latter-day Saint Charities has ongoing in each country. Brochures provided background on humanitarian projects and the work of the Church.
Read more: Church 2021 annual report includes more than 3,900 humanitarian projects in 188 countries
Since the first summit in 1994 in Miami, Florida, there have been seven Summits of the Americas and two special sessions. The gathering helps set ongoing priorities for the Organization of American States. Leaders of the participating countries and their delegations meet for two or three days of discussions on the theme, and 450 civil society organization representatives were invited to attend this year as well.
Interreligious Forum of the Americas
The Church was also well represented at a concurrent event called the Interreligious Forum of the Americas, held at the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles. Sponsors of the forum included Religions for Peace, BYU’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies, or ICLRS, and the G20 Interfaith Forum Association.
The forum drew speakers and attendees from the U.S., Mexico, Panama, Brazil, Argentina and Peru. Elder L. Whitney Clayton, emeritus general authority, was one of the keynote speakers and addressed religious freedom. BYU law professors Gary Doxey, associate director of ICLRS, and W. Cole Durham, the president of the G20 Interfaith Forum Association, also spoke and moderated panels.
Sister Rosanna Matos de Gomez, an area organization adviser in the Church’s Caribbean Area, represented the Church on a panel about the role faith-based organization collaborations played to improve pandemic response and resilience within communities.
She told the Church News: “The panel was developed within a framework of respect and diversity. Each leader who attended was with the aim of providing solutions to society’s problems.”
Sister Gomez discussed collaborative approaches to the pandemic, what the Church accomplished, and the lessons learned to better prepare for the future and create resilient communities.
“It is important to work collaboratively with other religious groups in order to provide solutions to the problems that afflict our society,” said Sister Gomez. “Only by putting aside our differences, and focusing on our shared values and mission, can we achieve this.”
Matthew Ball, the director of public and international affairs for the Church’s North America West Area, moderated a panel on responding to the challenges of freedom of conscience and religion. Estrugo was a panelist during a discussion on enhancing religious contributions to diversity, inclusion and equity, and Sister Lange moderated a panel on extending welcome from faith communities at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Sister Lange told the Church News she felt the hand of the Lord in all the preparation for the summit and the forum, because of all the opportunities and participation from Church organizations in the events.
Sister Gomez was grateful for the opportunity to participate, and is looking forward to future collaboration.
“As faith leaders, we are dedicated to mitigating human suffering and increasing the quality of life for all God’s children,” she said. “As we focus on this and let this be our motivation, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish together.”