I’ve been deeply touched by the emphasis on service to refugees being advocated by the Church during this recent General Conference. Related to that was the message from Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, “I Am a Child of God,” which showed great love and appreciation for the powerful faith of new Saints in Liberia, where he and some other leaders were among the first to return to that nation after travel into the nation was again allowed after the recent Ebola crisis was over. The story of such faithful Saints who have memorized so much of scripture and so many hymns reminds me of the immigrants and converts among the Nephite nation, the former Lamanites who called themselves Anti-Nephi-Lehites after conversion. Though given lands of inheritance, they were outsiders, cut off from their former culture and not really part of the new one. It seems that they turned to God and the scriptures for their support, developing their own Zion-based culture, producing families of great faith who would be a great blessing to the Nephites. I think we can look to Africa for great blessings and miracles in our own future.
Immigration and loss of roots is an ongoing problem in Africa, though it is dwarfed in the news by the immigration crises stemming from Syria and other nations whose immigrants are sweeping into Europe and other nations. I am glad to see the Church encouraging compassion and support for immigrants.
Contrary to some critics who insist that Mormons really aren’t accepting of outsiders and immigrants, my family’s experience suggests that love and acceptance of immigrants and strangers is a vital part of our faith and culture. Two of my siblings married immigrants, one from Korea and one from Brazil. In Appleton, Wisconsin, a large fraction of our ward was made of immigrants, mostly the Hmong people from Laos and Thailand, but also some from Mexico and other lands. One of my first callings in Wisconsin was being asked to reach out to immigrants in the area, and that began my study of the Hmong language and some Spanish.
After having worked closely with immigrants as their bishop, I was then called with my entire family to serve in a Hmong-speaking branch. The stories of tragedy and loss from the Hmong people, who fought and died to rescue Americans in the secret wars in Laos during the Vietnam War, inspired and moved me, and motivated me to create a web page about their story, “The Tragedy of the Hmong,” in addition to writing an article that has been published in several sources. While I personally was an advocate for integrating the newly baptized Hmong people into a strong, functional ward rather than forming their own branch, we accepted the calling and strove to serve them for two years. The branch faced disaster, one of the most painful eras of my life, when a key leader there left the Church. Yet I remain his friend and was pleased to visit him and his wife when I was in Appleton on a visit from China, and was delighted to see he still had a large photo of his family with my wife and I from the day he went to the LDS temple with us. We love him and his family, and yearn for their happiness.
We are now strangers in China and though we live in unjust prosperity in the easy city of Shanghai, we can relate to a few of the challenges that strangers and immigrants face in strange lands, though precious few are given the advantages and ease that we have. Our lives, though, are deeply connected with others here whose paths have not been so smooth. The immigrants from the Chinese countryside fill the cities and are strangers and sometimes outcasts, seeking a better life without the benefits of health care and education that would be available if they stayed in their homelands, where jobs are scarce. They stand in great need of help also and represent a great challenge here in China that many are striving to address, but the challenge is so great.
In every nation, there is a need to do more for the needs of the immigrants and the impoverished in out midst. How we respond will determine who we are. May we listen to the wise counsel from General Conference and from other wise proponents of compassion to find better ways to help.