LDS Charities provided relief to dozens of countries last year, in part because church leaders believe humanitarian aid can reduce the damage caused by rising global conflict, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said Wednesday in a historic speech at the House of Lords in London.
The speech marked the first time a leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has addressed a gathering in the Houses of Parliament, located at the Palace of Westminster.
"Last year, LDS Charities responded to 132 disasters of one kind or another in 60 nations of the world, including a major typhoon in the Philippines, a destructive cyclone in the Kingdom of Tonga, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and extensive refugee assistance for Syria and Iraq," said Elder Holland, a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
"In addition to such emergency relief we found calmer circumstances along the way, allowing us to provide wheelchairs in 48 countries, maternal and newborn care in 42 countries, vision care in 34 countries, clean water and sanitation projects in 26 countries, gardening projects in 17 countries and medical immunizations in nine countries," he said.
Elder Holland said the short answer to the title of his talk — "Religious Conflict: Can Humanitarian Aid Help?" — is "certainly."
He and LDS Charities director Sharon Eubank shared lessons learned from LDS relief efforts around the world at the annual meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Foreign Affairs. The group is an informal, multipartisan caucus formed to stimulate discussion and ideas about how United Kingdom foreign policy can prevent global conflict.
"Unfortunately, religiously related violence is increasing, not decreasing, as we move into the 21st century," Elder Holland said. He cited a report by the Pew Research Center that indicates religious conflicts and confrontations have reached all-time highs in all regions of the world except the Americas.
"Worldwide the last few years have seen the largest displacement of religious populations in memory," he said. "In almost every corner of the globe, tens of millions from a wide-ranging variety of faiths have been forced from their homes due to one form of religious conflict or another. Indeed, religious extremism is now the driving force of terrorism worldwide."
The Pew study also shows that three-quarters of the world's population faces "hostile" restrictions on religious freedom and expression, a figure he characterized as "staggering."
The 10-year study recorded religious repression in 151 of 185 nations.
In such a setting, Elder Holland said constructive religious organizations are peacebuilders and peacemakers. They "can function as powerful agents for tolerance, for pluralism, and for conflict-management."
"It is a fact," he said, "that humanitarian aid can help reduce the damage of conflict, even if it cannot entirely prevent or eliminate it. Providing food, water, education, sanitation, housing, health supplies and medical treatment not only brings immediate relief and comfort in an emergency, but it helps with intangibles such as the reduction of fear, the cohesiveness of families, the belief that there are good forces in the world as well as bad, that with such angels of mercy as humanitarian workers there is reason to keep living, to keep believing, to trust that life will be peaceful and stable again."
He said people cannot live long without hope, "and that is what humanitarian aid gives at least as much as it gives actual commodities and relief."
The LDS Church has a close tie to the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Foreign Affairs. The Right Honourable Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne is not only a member of the House of Lords, the upper house of the United Kingdom Parliament, she also founded and chairs the AMAR International Charitable Foundation.
AMAR and LDS Charities sponsor joint projects in the Middle East, including the Mobility-HOPE wheelchairs project that provides wheelchairs in southern Iraq.
The Baroness was in Utah last year for a joint AMAR/LDS Charities fundraiser. On Wednesday, Elder Holland expressed gratitude for her and said he will introduce her when she returns to Utah in September to speak at Brigham Young University.
“They’ve done a great deal of good in the world," Elder Holland said afterward, "they see us as having shared common values. We have been able to team up with them, to join forces with them."
LDS Charities provided wheelchair services to 57,800 people last year.
Elder Holland closed by noting the impossible size of the problem of providing relief around the world, but counseled against discouragement, quoted Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill about the nobility and morality of the pursuit and said God will help.
Elder Holland told the parliamentary group that he was speaking as an apostolic representative of God and declared, "He is helping us now."
Eubank and His Excellency Dr. Rowsch Shaways, deputy prime minister of Iraq, also addressed the All-Party Parliamentary Group.
Eubank said corruption and conflict rob people of control over their lives, destinies and bodies and create humanitarian crises.
"Humanitarian acts rooted in sincere respect underlie transformational change," she said.
“They’ve done a great deal of good in the world, they see us as having shared common values. We have been able to team up with them, to join forces with them,” Elder Holland said.