Elder Kearon On Service To Refugees

I remember so distinctly last summer when the Pope made the call for every parish across Europe to take in a refugee family and help them in the ways that they needed.  I remember this because I longed for the same explicit message in regards to specific service we can and should give in the world. 

As Elder Kearon spoke today my heart was moved, both out of both gratitude for this leader who spoke with incredible compassion, intelligence and fairness about the plight of refugees in the world today, but maybe more so, I cried with embarrassment and sadness that I thought in my own small way  I needed to wait for a leader to give this talk to prompt my taking action. Elder Kearon’s talk is an example to me that we do not need to wait to be asked, but that we are our most powerful agents when we act as the spirit directs us.  He seemed so clearly to speak from the direction of his own personal experience and thus, his own personal interpretation of what the spirit was directing him to deliver to the worldwide church.

Conference has been a beloved part of my life since I was little and could fill out a conference bingo card and bring it to my primary president to get a donut so despite many things being different about my church experience the older I get, something about that familiar spirit of wanting to be better, of believing I can do much better, asked me to sit down and listen again, as it has so many times in the past.

I think at its most poignant moments, the spirit moves us to feel sorrow for the things we have not done, but could have.  In the case of this talk I felt that sorrow acutely, but the spirit did not leave me alone in that moment, because as Elder Kearon continued to speak I recognized the warm hope that I truly can repent and be better. I simultaneously felt that draw to repentance and that faith that I am capable of making a difference in the world.   To experience the full spectrum of emotion as I listened to his words reminded me why there is power in speaking of Christ to the entire body of the church at the same time. I imagine as he spoke, we all felt some degree of both sorrow and dedication to work harder.

He spoke the line near the end that called us out of our safe places to do more and better service,

“WE have found refuge. Let us come out from our safe places and share with them, from our abundance, hope for a brighter future, faith in God and in our fellow man, and love that sees beyond cultural and ideological differences to the glorious truth that we are all children of our Heavenly Father.”

I realized that while I may find frustration at times in accordance with my church membership, I indeed have found safe space because and through it.  I have found peace in Christ, and peace and power in the belief that I can be more like Christ when I forget about myself and think more about others.

Kearon ends with a line so powerful I want to write it in big letters and put it on my wall until I can find a way to make service an actuality in my life, and in the life of my children, “This moment does not define them, but our response will help define us.”

This is what the gospel that is rooted so deeply in my heart feels like, comforting and compelling in the way that I can do something however small, however humble, and that effort will not only be matched by the love of Christ to magnify its impact, but can be received by those who would do the same for me when I need it.  That to me feels like the gospel of Christ I am willing and eager to build a home in, and Elder Kearon’s talk was powerful testament of someone who has already done so and is continuing to do the work of building up not just a home for himself in Zion, but a home for so many others who desperately need refuge.





  1. Jason K. says:

    Thanks, Ashmae. This talk was a real highlight. Between this and the women’s session, I am a happy camper.

  2. Hands down the best conference talk.

  3. Yes . . . just yes.

  4. Loved the talk. Love your response.

  5. Did anyone else get the feeling Pres Uchtdorf was having a hard time getting himself together to conduct after this talk?

    I was just glad to be at home where I didn’t have to get myself together for anything.

  6. I cannot speak for Pres. Uchtdorf, but I was seeing what my four year old self saw in Frankfort in 1947. No buildings just peles of rubble stacked on each side of all the streets and no buildings for blocks around.

  7. Uchtdorf’s response was one of the most humbling moments of my life of conference watching.

  8. This brings to memory how many North Texas stakes and wards responded after Katrina — local units assessed their ability to take in people (and how many people, how many spare rooms, how long, etc.). In the end our stake didn’t need to provide formal help, but it was inspiring to see. I remember large groups of stake members going to different places to help with tornado cleanup on other occasions. We need more of this.

  9. I loved this talk, and I loved Elder Uchtdorf’s response. High point of (a very good) conference for me.

  10. Texas Girl says:

    This was a beautiful talk. One of the most touching and well-written of the whole conference. However, I was incredibly frustrated seeing the difference in the pitiful response following the general women’s meeting announcement of the “I was a stranger” initiative vs. the excited and robust response following this one talk in general conference. I guess I should be happy that people are now seeking to help the refugees around the world, but it would make my heart glad to have people listen to women leaders as they do the men.

  11. Texas Girl, that is an excellent and valid point. You are right. One thing I did love in his talk was that he noted specifically that the movement was brought to light by the female auxillaries, and that at least felt like a small attempt at returning autonomy to the relief society to do what they do best.

  12. Thanks for the great writeup, ashmae. I agree, Texas Girl. On Sunday between sessions I wondered aloud if the initiatives from the Women’s Session would be referenced, and I wasn’t disappointed. Between this talk and the Women’s Session, a few impressions have stuck with me:
    -Does the “I Was as Stranger” initiative bear the fingerprints of the diverse Young Women’s General Board? It’s clear that those with international perspectives and personal experience (Kearon, Uchdorf) consider this a worthy cause.
    -Elder Kearon’s emphasis on recasting refugees in light of their potential (or in some cases, their pre-refugee professions) reminded me of the admonition to be “think of your bretheren like unto yourselves”. We’re not just to help refugees; we must think of them as we think of ourselves.
    -His invitation to increase our awareness of world events and stand against intolerance also stood apart.
    -Finally, family members who worked with Somali refugees through inner city missions and Catholic Community Services emphasized the importance of training, setting boundaries, and respecting their cultural and religious beliefs.

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