News Story

What Moves Mormons During Emergencies

After recent severe storms in Ruidoso, New Mexico, Mormon missionaries joined with local Latter-day Saints to help residents deal with the damage.

After a day spent diverting and damming overflowing rivers, volunteers helped victims move out of flooded and damaged homes. They removed mud (up to three and a half feet deep) and water-logged goods and furniture from homes.

A semi truck from the Latter-day Saints’ Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City arrived the next day. It contained some 12,000 hygiene kits, 1,200 cleaning kits, 600 shovels and numerous blankets and quilts. Supplies were distributed to community and church organizations such as city hall, the Convention Center, The Church of Christ and the Church of the Nazarene.

During emergencies such as this one, whether caused by tornadoes, fires, floods, earthquakes or something else, if there is a Mormon congregation close by, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often among the first to provide resources or to help in other ways. Latter-day Saint congregational communication lines and the Christian principle of helping your neighbor drive Mormons’ effectiveness in mobilizing volunteers and supplies in crisis situations.

After an oil spill off the coast of South Korea in late 2007, Mormons spread the word among their congregations that a massive cleanup was needed. Within a few days, plans were made, supplies collected and hundreds of volunteers brought in to help mop up the coastline.

According to Kil, Young Kwon, a senior Latter-day Saint leader in South Korea, “Mormons are able to respond to emergencies quickly because they balance closely knit relationships and communication channels with a strong desire to take their religion out of their chapels into the community.” 

After recent severe flooding in Mackay, Australia, earlier this year, the Church responded immediately on three fronts. Leaders at the Church’s Australian headquarters approved a cash donation to the Queensland state government so supplies and other resources could be purchased.

Members of the Church in neighboring cities and towns gathered cleaning equipment, food and other emergency supplies so they could be trucked north to Mackay. Local members then distributed the supplies to parts of the community that needed them most and assisted fellow residents in the cleanup.

Earlier this year, Latter-day Saints in Missouri, Ohio, Arkansas, Oregon and Washington worked in their distinctive yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” shirts when areas in their states were hit by floods. Church members also worked with local authorities to help those affected by the Southern California fires last year and the Wells Nevada earthquake in March.

A big part of the Latter-day Saint approach to internal communication is member-to- member ministering. Each household in a Mormon ward (congregation) has two male

members assigned as “home teachers.” Each pair is asked to visit a group of families (usually three to five) each month to share a spiritual message and provide assistance as invited.

Mormon women also pair up to visit other women in the ward each month, to offer spiritual and other support. These peer-to-peer pastoral relationships lead to close ties in good times and also accelerate news-spreading and resource-gathering in crisis situations.

During a meeting last year of the First Presidency, the highest governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a telephone call from the president of the United States interrupted the discussion. President George W. Bush was flying over Utah in Air Force One, and he wanted to express gratitude to Church leaders for Mormon support after a hurricane in another part of the country.

President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, who was serving as second counselor at the time of the meeting, recounted this incident at a recent general conference of the Church. “The president of the United States had said that it was a miracle that we were able to get so many people, so quickly, working together so well,” said President Eyring.

Also at the Church’s general conference, Bishop H. David Burton provided a summary of humanitarian relief given by the Church and its members in 2007.

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