What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About Refugees?

The king of the Lamanites was troubled. His people had accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ after being taught by a group of Nephite missionaries. They had made a solemn oath never to fight again. Their own people had turned against them and were slaughtering them mercilessly. Now, Ammon, the leader of the missionaries, had proposed that they immigrate to the land of the Nephites.

This option had not occurred to the king, probably because the Nephites were their sworn enemies. They had fought many battles, and his people, who were now pacifists, had killed many of them. He found it hard to believe that the Nephites could forgive them (Alma 27:6).

But Ammon persuaded him to go. When they arrived, the chief judge of the Nephites “sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people.” The response was magnanimous: “We will give up Jershon, which is on the east by the sea…. And behold, we will set our armies between the land of Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren” (Alma 27:22-23).

The protection was required. The unconverted Lamanites attacked, and “there was a tremendous battle; yea, even such an one as never had been known among all the people in the land” (Alma 28:2). Many of the Nephites died defending these refugees.

“This was a time that there was a great mourning” (Alma 28:4). However, there is no record of vindictiveness or misgivings about the decision to defend this group of helpless Lamanites.

A refugee is “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster” (Oxford English Dictionary).

Because the Nephites had the brass plates, they knew that the Lord had given strict commandments to the children of Israel through Moses about how to treat immigrants. For example:

The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:34).

Years later, the children of these refugees, under the direction of Helaman, were instrumental in turning the tide of a massive war against the Lamanites. Their faith not only resulted in miraculous victories. It also strengthened the morale of the Nephite soldiers who fought by their sides.

As Elder Patrick Kearon has taught, our response to the needs of refugees is a reflection of our values and our character:

Being a refugee may be a defining moment in the lives of those who are refugees, but being a refugee does not define them. Like countless thousands before them, this will be a period—we hope a short period—in their lives. Some of them will go on to be Nobel laureates, public servants, physicians, scientists, musicians, artists, religious leaders, and contributors in other fields. Indeed, many of them were these things before they lost everything. This moment does not define them, but our response will help define us (“Refuge from the Storm,” General Conference, April 2016).

And as President Russell M. Nelson recently reminded us, there are more than 70 million refugees in the world today (“The Second Great Commandment,” General Conference, October 2019).

Today, I will remember that God expects us to look after the most vulnerable people among us. I will search for opportunities to support people in need.

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