Ukraine disaster ‘only the very beginning’ of LDS aid, says church’s humanitarian leader

Sharon Eubank has seen the process of responding to global crises repeatedly in the past decade.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society, which is made up of all adult women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, poses for a photograph Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

Within hours after Russia invaded Ukraine, leaders of Latter-day Saint Charities were contacting friends and collaborating organizations in the region, assessing needs and buying food for the flood of refugees who would soon be arriving in various European countries.

Through decades of experience in providing such assistance during natural disasters, refugee crises and other humanitarian conditions, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has “developed a tested and proven model for identifying needs and providing assistance,” the church said in a release Thursday.

“This model includes empowering local leaders to use the church’s financial resources to purchase goods and services in the local economy to provide what is truly needed.”

Following this pattern, the release said, “relief supplies — including sleeping bags, cots and tents — are being delivered to local government agencies, the Red Cross and other [nongovernmental organizations] attending to Ukrainian refugees arriving in bordering countries. Additional aid is being organized.”

Sharon Eubank, who was tapped to lead the faith’s humanitarian services in 2011, has seen the process of responding to global crises again and again in the past decade.

And it is happening now in Ukraine.

Like many other faith groups, the LDS Church has members in all the countries affected, Eubank said Friday during a virtual presentation to hundreds of U.S. business leaders, government officials and politicians involved in Horasis, which describes itself as a “global visions community.”

The church has “members in Russia who are feeling the difficult effects of sanctions. We have members in Poland and Germany and Slovakia and Hungary and Moldova and Russia — they’re all receiving enormous amounts of refugees and generously giving the help that they can,” Eubank said. “And we have members in Ukraine who are facing impossible choices and the destruction of their beautiful country.”

The Utah-based faith’s humanitarian arm “keeps a two-year reserve of funding, and this allows us to be incredibly nimble,” she said. “We’re not going to raise funds for the work that we need to do. We’re using funds that have already been raised. That allowed us to pre-position food and water several weeks ago. It allows us to be right on the border with what the people need and be responsive because the needs change every single day as the situation goes forward.”

Beyond the immediate needs, though, the church has made a “commitment to stay,” Eubank said. “We’re not just there for the first month or the first week. We will stay until that situation is resolved. …The disaster is only the very beginning. What we really care about is helping people spiritually, emotionally and physically recover and build their societies back.”

The humanitarian leader, who also serves as first counselor in the general presidency of the church’s all-female Relief Society, knows that providing physical needs is only part of what people in crisis need.

“Our natural reaction is to think of distributing physical goods to meet physical needs,” she said, but, in her experience, “the greater disaster is the unseen emotional and spiritual needs that are often neglected.”

In her remarks at the virtual gathering, titled, “Leadership in an Era of Humanitarian Crisis: The Role of Communities of Faith,” Eubank said her organization builds its efforts on three guiding principles — choice, the dignity of meaningful work, and cooperation.

In emergencies or poverty, “choices get severely restricted. People often don’t get to choose what they eat, where they live, what kind of work they do, where they worship, or what they wear,” she said. “Protecting an individual’s ability to choose is one of the cornerstones of effective impact. Any time choice and self-determination are preserved (even in small instances…) we protect the God-given spark of self-determination that motivates us as human beings.”

Preserving human dignity also is crucial, Eubank said. “When corruption interrupts the connection between meaningful work and progress, people lose hope.”

And cooperation breeds unity and teamwork.

Faith communities “are no strangers to coming together for a cause greater than ourselves,” she said. “We are very often both global partners and grassroots congregations.”

Many objectives can be achieved “more effectively if faith communities are part of the solution,” Eubank said. “The good that religion can do, especially when it comes to integration and achieving sustainable development, is amplified when religious groups work in partnership with each other, and with government and nongovernmental organizations.”

Indeed, she said, she sees more collaboration taking place among faith-based organizations now than any time in the 25 years she’s been working in the industry.

Some of that has been driven by need, Eubank noted. “There are so many crises that are happening all at once that we just need new actors.”

Some have argued that faith communities can be the source of conflict, Eubank noted, rather than aiding its resolution.

“Let me just say that the best antidote to any ill that is done in the name of religion is better religion,” Eubank said. “The best answer to Islamic extremism will be authentic Islam, just as the solution to Christian extremism will be authentic Christianity. It will be the best of faith that defeats distorting versions of religious belief and blesses communities.”