I Was a Stranger

With World Refugee Day on June 20th, my thoughts are increasingly focused on the relief effort "I Was a Stranger.”  Although intended to bless the lives of refugees, this initiative has done as much, if not more, to bless the lives of those who serve.

At the April 2016 Women's Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Relief Society General President Linda Burton introduced the I Was A Stranger initiative. "There are more than 60 million refugees, including forcibly displaced people, worldwide. Half of those are children," she explained, while petitioning all to increase relief and service to refugees within our localities.  

The program was inspired by biblical passage Matthew 25:42-45 where Jesus admonishes His followers to serve each other unconditionally. He said, "I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not." Confused by these specifics, the crowd asks, "When saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger or naked, or sick, or in prison...?" to which Jesus profoundly responds, "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."

At a recent reporting meeting, Bob Thompson from Lethbridge, Alberta spoke of his experience through tears: "This is the most meaningful thing my wife and I have ever done." He described the love he had developed for their new friends, which miraculously turned sacrifice to privilege.

Eleanor and Reg Hilchie of Saint John, New Brunswick, teach newcomers about their new homeland through use of mobile apps to assist with translation. Teenagers in Brampton, Ontario were happy to assemble 300 welcome kits for Syrian children that included writing supplies and handwritten letters of welcome. Church members in Guelph, Ontario welcomed a local Imam to educate them on the plight of Syrian refugees, which led to their donating school supplies, cribs, mattresses and beds for 76 refugee families in their region. Mormon missionaries and members partnered with Manitoba interfaith friends to raise funds, donate commodities, provide home repairs and landscaping. Sonia Bruyere of Gatineau, Quebec said of their winter scarf knitting project, "It is more than a simple scarf that could be made by machine. In this scarf are all my thoughts and my love for the person who will receive it."

Regardless from who or where the reports come, the common message is that those providing service to the refugees feel they are the ones who are blessed as they love and are loved. When a young Syrian child with broken, beautiful, new English expressed appreciation through the words "I love you,” all present were reminded that there are no strangers amongst the children of God.

This blog was contributed by Sandra Pallin. She is the National Director of Public Affairs, Canada, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She is also Treasurer of the Canadian Interfaith Conversation.