Refugees: How Can Our Past Help Their Future?

Understanding the Mormon refugee experience has prepared us for a great work: helping millions in the same plight today.

Latter-day Saints have a special connection with those currently fleeing religious persecution: we were once refugees too.

photo by ümit bulut

Latter-day Saints have a special connection with people currently fleeing from religious persecution: we were once refugees too. In his speech “The Mormon Refugee Experience,” given at Windsor Castle on September 14 2016, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland illustrates how early Latter-day Saints experienced trials similar to those fleeing oppression today.

In the 1800s, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were driven out of their homes—beaten and harassed. A Missouri governor declared, “Mormons must be treated as enemies . . . and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary.” This order made the LDS Church the only American church with an extermination order issued against it. However, Elder Holland notes a few ways in which the light of hope existed in the darkness—a light that we can use to help today’s refugees.

Identity and Faith

One way the early Saints stayed strong in the face of persecution was by remembering that they were God’s chosen people. This identity increased their faith, and today’s refugees can benefit from a similar idea: they can find faith through their spiritual identities. Elder Holland says, “Whenever possible, we should facilitate and perpetuate the unique identities of refugees and highlight stories from their past.”

Neighbors’ Assistance and Relief Efforts

While escaping persecution, Latter-day Saints found temporary refuge among residents in Missouri and Illinois. We too can offer aid to those who are displaced into our communities. We can fulfill the Savior’s words: “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in” (Matthew 25:35).

Organizational Participation

Early members found assistance and support through participating in the Church’s administrative organization, which enabled them “to remain informed, united, and engaged in the problems they faced.” But most modern evacuees are not members of such an entity. Elder Holland advises that “we need to help today’s refugees regain a sense of fulfillment by allowing them to participate in the resolution of their own circumstances as much as possible.” We should provide aid to refugees, but we should also help facilitate opportunities for them to organize their own futures when possible.

Latter-day Saint history gives us empathy for those suffering today. With our past in mind, we should remember Elder Holland’s insights when approaching the refugee crisis: “These displaced, struggling millions will know that we know a little of how they feel.”

Read a transcript of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s full speech given at Windsor Castle.


—Olivia Snow, Mormon Insights

feature image by danielle macinnes

Find more insights

Read the Church’s official statement on refugees.

Check out blog posts from the Church’s refugee website to discover stories of how others have helped refugees.

Watch these short videos to gather ideas of how you can help refugees:

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  1. This is a really fascinating article because this topic is so controversial in the political realm. It’s also interesting because the Church rarely takes a political stand on trending issues. I don’t see this as a political statement though; I see this as a plea to show all people love, kindness, and respect.

  2. I agree with Naomi that this feels less like a political statement and more like a general call for us to see these people as our brothers and sisters and to love them.

  3. I love this article. I think it’s really fascinating to look at our Mormon history and see how we aren’t so different from refugees after all. It’s always important to remember kindness and empathy, and this was a really good reminder to focus on similarities rather than the differences. While the refugee crisis appears to be more than we can help with, there is always something we can do for those who are less fortunate than we.

  4. I really hate how controversial immigration is as a topic. My opinion is that you can’t properly keep everyone out, so it’s best to let everyone in. If you have a proper amalgamation of cultures, if you focus more on community support than on immigration, then you’ll have a decent change of lessening discrimination and fostering a trend towards peace. This is a wonderful article and I still hope for the future.

  5. The refugee crisis is close to my heart. I worked with refugees in Minnesota and they are so humble, appreciative, and generous with the little that they have. I think that when we look at the whole group, it can be overwhelming. But if we get to know individuals, we find room in our hearts and we’re able to focus on their needs. Most of the refugees that I met wanted to be self-sufficient and a lot of the time all they needed was a friend to answer questions.

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