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Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Foreign Affairs and a few of the meeting's audience pose for a photo with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Baroness Nicholson and Sharon Eubank of the Church's Humanitarian Services in Westminster Hall following the APPG meeting in June 2015. Elder Holland addressed the topic of humanitarian aid during his visit.

PROVO — Refugees were overwhelming a maternity hospital in Erbil, Turkey. The hospital has 53 beds for mothers, but 150 babies are born each day.

The death rate was heartbreakingly high until LDS Charities intervened.

Each time a new baby was born, a hospital staffer immediately wrapped the child in a blanket and handed the tiny bundle to someone else — often a cleaning lady — who dashed down a long hallway to the pediatric area.

"Four times a day, by the time she rushed the length of that hall, the baby would be dead," said Brent Strong, a former BYU professor who with his wife, Margaret, served for 30 months as an LDS humanitarian volunteer in Amman, Jordan.

LDS Charities provided for lifesaving neonatal training at the hospital.

Mormons on the front lines of the global refugee crisis made presentations Monday during the annual conference of the LDS International Society at BYU's Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center. They described the ways the charity arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fills critical niches through dozens of partnerships across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

And Salt Lake City.

The ISIS front

How close to the front lines are they?

One Mormon couple is located 25 miles from the Islamic State front, working to guarantee that aid provided to refugees doesn't end up in the hands of IS extremists, Strong said.

Another LDS service missionary couple who presented at Monday's conference has been working directly on the front lines of refugee resettlement in Utah for 10 years.

Both are examples of the priority LDS leaders have placed on the global refugee crisis which affects 60 million displaced persons, speakers said.

That concern was evident on Sunday when President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church's First Presidency and himself twice a refugee as a boy in post-World War II Germany, choked up during the faith's worldwide general conference following a talk by Elder Patrick Kearon of the Seventy.

The church's Europe Area president, Elder Kearon described how the church is working with 75 partner organizations in 17 European countries to relieve the suffering of refugees.

"I was very touched at the end of Elder Kearon's remarks with the emotional response of President Uchtdorf," said Elder Bruce A. Carlson, an emeritus Seventy and retired four-star Air Force general who for the past three years oversaw the church's relief work in the Middle East and North Africa.

"This is a sensitive subject with him," Elder Carlson said of President Uchtdorf, "and I will tell you it is a sensitive subject with all the (senior leaders of) the church. They are very concerned about this building problem around the world and what our response will be."

Effective partners

Elder Carlson told the Deseret News the church is partnering with dozens of organizations in 19 countries in the Middle East/North Africa area.

Those partners expand the reach of LDS Charities and improve its efficiency and effectiveness. There are areas in places like Iraq where the church can't go, Strong said, but the AMAR Foundation is embedded in Iraq.

"LDS Charities, although vast compared to AMAR, is an organization of like-minded people," AMAR Foundation regional manager Emily Stevens said. "They provide humanitarian aid to the entire world, and with such a huge area to cover, they do not build infrastructure in the countries where they work."

For example, last June LDS Charities gave AMAR $500,000 to fund construction of a health care and skills development training center in two camps in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

The funding facilitates 37,000 medical services each month and another 7,000 visits a month by women health volunteers to family tents, Stevens said.

"Can we give them hope?" said Bruce Muir, director of Emergency Response for the LDS Church. "I think yes. I think we can do it personally, and I think we can do it as a church."

As a church, LDS Charities and its partnerships provide food, coats, boots, immunizations, eye examination equipment, blankets, hygiene kits, sewing machines for refugee women who sew for income and much more.

Resettlement issues

One-on-one care is crucial on the resettlement front line, once refugees arrive in a new community. Refugees sent to Utah need help finding affordable housing because of the state's high rents, said Sister Amy Wylie, who with her husband, Elder Bob Wylie, is serving in the LDS Church's Salt Lake Inner City Mission.

Another problem is hunger. One woman confided to Sister Wylie that she had lived in Utah for seven years and had been hungry every single day. Sister Wylie gave her lunch money but learned the next day that she didn't eat because of guilt at having food when she knew many who didn't, including her sisters.

Wylie said refugees need help navigating U.S. government systems and even learning how to shop economically. They also need know someone cares. She shared the story of a Sudanese Lost Boy named Wilson who gravitated toward the Wylies. One day he asked for a photo of their family. She realized he didn't want a picture of her family; he wanted a picture of him with her family.

One day she asked another Lost Boy if he knew Wilson. "We're his family," she said. The Lost Boy asked, "Do you have a family for me?"

"That’s all they want," Wylie said. "I've worked with Lost Boys for years. I've never had one ask for money. They want a place to belong."

The work done by LDS Charities and the new refugee relief effort by Mormon women, called "I Was a Stranger," left many International Society members with a sense they are witnessing a transformation.

"This is a defining moment," said Fred Axelgard, senior fellow in International Affairs at the Wheatley Institution. "It will go a long way to defining us as a people, as a culture, as a church and as a nation."

It can do more than that on a personal level, said Elizabeta Jevtic-Somlai, a former Serbian refugee who is now a visiting professor of political science at BYU.

"The way we deal with this situation," she said, "can refine us."

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com