Apostle shares personal experience as a refugee

Written by: 
Rachel Reed

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Seventy sat down and reminisced about his experiences as a refugee in East Germany in light of the growing refugee crisis in Europe. Mormon Newsroom released a short video of the interview, and students at BYU-Hawaii reacted positively to the advice he shared.

“I think Elder Uchtdorf's experience allowed him to give us an insight into the hardships he went through as a kid,” said Stephanie Monroy-Leon, a junior studying international cultural studies from Georgia in response to the video. “His family lost everything twice and he had to relocate and start a new life in a foreign area.”

President Uchtdorf shared how he was a refugee at six years old during World War II, escaping Czechoslovakia and heading to Germany where his grandparents lived. With his father fighting in the war, it was only his mother and his siblings on a train.

In one instance, his mother left the train to find food, only to come back and find the train gone with her children missing. After scouring the area, she found the train with her children inside. Uchtdorf said their arrival in Germany was thanks to the kindness to others who gave them things to eat and drink.

President Uchtdorf became a refugee again in 1952 after fleeing from East Germany to West Germany when his father was politically targeted for opposing Communism. His family was split up again to escape, and luckily found each other after they escaped.

Mata Tonga, a junior studying history education from Laie, said, “I think it’s incredible what he went through, and now being a leader in our church today.”

Now President Uchtdorf said he strives to share the same kindness he received when he was a kid.

President Uchtdorf said when he escaped, non-refugees would call the refugees derogatory names. As a child, Uchtdorf said he felt sad.

Students took away a message of not labeling others. “I don’t believe it is okay to choose to help those we perceive to be of greater importance than others,” said Monroy-Leon. “I believe we should help anyone who we encounter. I like the message [he] addresses at the end: We should help everyone not just specific people.”

“When I look at the situation now, with the worldwide refugee situation, it is almost a tsunami of refugees,” he said.

Refugees have been coming to Europe by the thousands, and many with only the clothes on their back, reported the Ke Alaka’i. “I think people need to be more aware of the refugee crisis that is going on right now,” said Karli Newey, a senior studying graphic design from Utah. “These are serious issues going on in the world right now and whatever we can do to help can make a huge difference.”

Last September, $5 million was given in aid to the growing refugee crisis in Europe, reported the Ke Alaka’i. Recently, another $5 million dollars approved to continue aid to the refugees. This is not the only aid the church gives, but also provides worldwide relief for the refugees. This stood out to Tonga, who said, “Just the fact the church isn’t focusing on one area but helping around the world with people who need help, which represents the gospel.”

Though students can do little in Hawaii to help the refugees, they said the video has helped them to serve more.

Tonga said she would take on more service and will take advantage of “the service projects we have on campus.”

Uploaded Feb. 19, 2016