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How refugees in Spokane have found belonging and support among Latter-day Saints

New Church video ‘Christlike Service to Refugees’ shares stories of refugees from Africa in the state of Washington

One Friday evening, young Moses Lwakihugo came home from school and heard gunshots. 

“I found myself in the middle of the war,” he recalled. “I turned, see people are getting shot. And I looked behind, people being killed. And I didn’t know what to do. I was just waiting to die.”

He offered a desperate plea: “God, if you help me here, I will follow You.”

In a new Inspirational Message released Thursday, Jan. 29, titled “Christlike Service to Refugees,” people from various regions of Africa describe fleeing from war and how they have found belonging and support as refugees among Latter-day Saints in Spokane, Washington.

The video features a quote from President Russell M. Nelson: “Now is the time we can learn. Now is the time we can repent. Now is the time we can bless others.”

Lwakihugo, who now serves as a priesthood leader in a Swahili group in Spokane, continued sharing his story of leaving his country and coming to the United States. “In one year, I lost two of my brothers, and they left me over 12 kids that depend on my income,” he said.

People in the community helped him find a home and buy a car and taught him how to drive. Others opened their homes and had his family over for dinner. 

“People have saved me,” he said. “When we think about Christlike service, we think about bringing happiness to people. We think about putting the family together.”

Lwakihugo now helps other refugees of all backgrounds by translating for them at the hospital, helping them find housing and jobs and apply for citizenship. “And I think maybe this is why God saved me.”

Lwakihugo said when he shares a simple message of God’s love, people feel hope. “Then from there, the conversations start, and we start explaining about how to become self-sufficient: ‘We can show you how to ride a bus. We can show you how to find a hospital, clinic. This is how we cook. This is how we turn on the stove.’ … 

“I’ve been a refugee, and I know what people think when they come up here — ‘Maybe we’re not going to find other Africans or people that we share the same language.’ They lost the sense of hope. So when they come and they meet people like me and other people in the community, they have this sense of they belong here. The happiness, the joy, the way they feel — that changed their life.”

A scene from the Church’s video “Christlike Service to Refugees” shows Latter-day Saints and refugees at an activity in Spokane, Washington. | Screenshot from YouTube

An article in the February 2023 Liahona titled “Becoming a Zion People” elaborates on the stories of some of the refugees in the video. Alice and Philip Huber, who have served many African refugees in Spokane, described what “love, share, invite” looked like in their community and how these principles can apply to wards around the world.

“The ways to love and help our brothers and sisters coming from Africa are so varied and can fit into the schedule of anyone willing to reach out,” the Hubers wrote. “Our friends needed help learning English, going to the grocery store, registering kids for school, learning to drive, opening a bank account, learning to cook with American food, and more. We actively sought out opportunities rather than waiting for someone to ask for help or waiting until it was convenient to help. …

“Perhaps most of all, people need to feel that they have found family here among our congregation of Saints. Several ward members began learning Swahili to better connect and relate with our African friends. Ward members and our African friends began opening their homes to each other. This was so important to many of the refugees who were separated from their families or had lost family members in the war.”

The Hubers said they have witnessed the refugees’ courage and resilience amid hardship. “We have seen forgiveness, love, and grace and are constantly amazed by the examples of their faith in Jesus Christ. ...

“Maybe the greatest lesson we can all learn is the extent of family. Truly being brothers and sisters means that people coming to our ward will not find themselves ‘strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).”

Read more from the Hubers’ experience at Liahona.ChurchofJesusChrist.org and watch the video on the Church’s YouTube channel.

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