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Photo courtesy LDS Church
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, second from left, and his daughter, Antje U. Evans, left, visit with refugees in the Piraeus refugee camp, located near Athens, Greece. The camp is a temporary home to 1,332 refugees.

ATHENS, GREECE — Days after presenting $3 million to the World Food Programme to help refugees, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf visited refugee camps in Athens, Greece, on Friday.

“These refugees are our brothers and sisters; all of us are God’s children," said President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a former refugee. "The gratitude we saw in the eyes of these refugees for the generosity and kindness of our church members will never be forgotten. I could deeply feel the bond of love and compassion with these stranded families.”

Hosted by Catholic Relief Services and International Rescue Committee, President Uchtdorf visited two camps located near Athens — the Piraeus camp, which serves 1,332 people, and the Eleonas camp, a temporary home to about 2,415 people.

The refugee visits came one week after President Uchtdorf met with Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Programme, and Sandy Westlake, head of partnerships in the Private Sector Division of World Food Programme, at the Marriott Grand Hotel Flora in Rome, Italy. On July 17, he presented the organization with $3 million from LDS Charities, which will be divided to help refugees and internally displaced people in Syria, Cameroon and Chad.

"The generous offerings of our worldwide membership make such a donation possible," President Uchtdorf said.

The donation follows other partnerships between the LDS Church and the World Food Programme — a United Nations program aimed to eliminate acute hunger. LDS Charities partnered with the World Food Programme in 2014 to help those affected by the Ebola crisis and again in 2015 to alleviate hunger for those suffering from the drought in Ethiopia.

“There is a hunger in this world,” President Uchtdorf said. “Many people hunger for temporal, emotional, and spiritual food. As members of Jesus Christ’s church we can help in all of these fields.”

Every day, one out of nine people go without food and one in two are malnourished, according to the World Food Programme. In 2015, the organization distributed 3.2 million metric tons of food, directly providing food rations to 75.7 million people — including 62.6 million women and children — in 81 countries. Each of the rations can support an individual for 195 days.

"There is a great need of Christlike love and practical help for our Heavenly Father’s children abroad and at home,” said President Uchtdorf after visiting refugees in Greece. “We can be instruments in God’s hands by reaching out to the one wherever we may be. The children we met looked beautiful and were so eager to learn whatever was offered to them. Providing in the Lord’s way and opening doors for education of children and youth will bless future generations and help create an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation.

"As we saw firsthand all these good things happening in the camps we visited, we felt gratitude and love for our church members for their willingness to give so freely of their talents, time, and means to help our fellowmen who are seeking refuge and peace.”

The LDS Church has been providing aid to refugees in the Middle East for more than a decade, donating hundreds of thousands of blankets, clothes, emergency medical supplies, food and other resources to refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Syria.

In response to the recent crisis in Europe, the Church sent $5 million to help displaced families in September. And earlier this year, the First Presidency — including President Uchtdorf — encouraged Latter-day Saint women of all ages to assist refugees in their own communities.

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In a letter dated March 26, 2016, the First Presidency stated, “We remind Latter-day Saints throughout the world that one of the fundamental principles of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is to ‘impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, … administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants’ (Mosiah 4:26).”

The letter outlined the “I Was a Stranger” refugee relief effort and followed another letter issued six months earlier. In October 2015 a letter from the First Presidency encouraged all members to provide assistance to refugees in all parts of the world.

sarah@deseretnews.com @SJW_ChurchNews