“For ye were strangers”: Four Short Vignettes on Mormon(s) (and) Refugees

By November 18, 2015

“And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But 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: I am the Lord your God.” -Leviticus 19:33-34


Quincy, Illinois. February 27, 1839[1]

Four months after Missouri Executive Order 44 was signed into law by governor Lilburn Boggs, the Democratic Association of Quincy, Illinois meets to consider the plight of the Mormons, now classified as “enemies” in neighboring Missouri. After deliberation, Quincy residents adopt the following resolutions:

Resolved, That the strangers recently arrived here from the state of Missouri, known by the name of the ‘Latter-day Saints,’ are entitled to our sympathy and kindest regard, and that we recommend to the citizens of Quincy to extend all the kindness in their power to bestow on the person who are in affliction.

Resolved, That a numerous committee be raised, composed of some individuals in every quarter of the town and its vicinity, whose duty it shall be to explain to our misguided fellow citizens, if any such there be, who are disposed to excite prejudices and circulate unfounded rumors; and particularly to explain to them that these people have no design to lower the wages of the laboring class, but to procure something to save them from starving.

Resolved, That a standing committee be raised and be composed of individuals who shall immediately inform Mr. Rigdon and others, as many as they may think proper, of their appointment, and who shall be authorized to obtain information from time to time; and should they [the committee] be of opinion that any individuals, either from destitution or sickness, or if they find them houseless, that they appeal directly and promptly to the citizens of Quincy to furnish them with the means to relieve all such cases.

Resolved, That the committee last aforesaid be instructed to use their utmost endeavors to obtain employment for all these people, who are able and willing to labor; and also to afford them all needful, suitable and proper encouragement.

Resolved, That we recommend to all the citizens of Quincy, that in all their intercourse with the strangers, they use and observe a becoming decorum and delicacy, and be particularly careful not to indulge in any conversation or expressions calculated to wound their feelings, or in any way to reflect upon those, who by every law of humanity, are entitled to our sympathy and commiseration.


Aintab, Turkey. 1921.[2]

Combined-Aleppo-BranchFollowing the outbreak of political violence in 1909, Latter-day Saint missionaries withdraw from the region. The outbreak of World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire prevents their return until 1922. In the interim, the small band of (primarily Armenian) Mormon converts is scattered. Some, including the entire presidency of the Aintab Branch, are among the millions killed in the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Others, like Moses Hindoian, serve in the Ottoman Army. Following the conclusion of hostilities and his return home, Hindoian writes to church leaders in Salt Lake City, “pleading earnestly for help and advice.” Latter-day Saints in Utah hold special fasts for their Armenian sisters and brothers, and send supplies and relief funds with Joseph Booth, newly-called to return to the region as Mission President. Booth arrives to find the Saints in Aintab living in poverty and ongoing fear over future outbreaks of violence. He secures permission for fifty-three Latter-day Saints to leave the city. Traveling by foot, and in true Mormon fashion, by covered wagon, the beleaguered group finally finds refuge in the Swaka District and Jewish quarters of Aleppo. Yes, in Syria.


1928852_512716335369_1917_nSantiago de María, Usulutan, El Salvador, 1980-1992.

In the 1970s, a young family meets missionaries in the rural village of Santiago de María and becomes convinced of the truthfulness of the message they share. The mother, father, and two oldest children are baptized, becoming the first Latter-day Saints in the community. They host the first sacrament meetings in their small living room. War between a violent and oppressive government and guerrilla insurgents breaks out in 1980, and eventually, American (and later, Guatemalan and Honduran) missionaries are withdrawn from the war-torn nation. Church meetings stop in Santiago de María, and the young family’s matriarch, and later, the second eldest daughter, flee El Salvador in search of a brighter future in the United States. They share a small apartment in inner-city San Francisco. The daughter begins attending the local ward there, and eventually returns to full activity. She marries a returned missionary, and together they raise a family of four children. In 2005, her oldest daughter graduates from high school, and enrolls at BYU that fall. Three years later, she graduates with a degree in Communications, becoming the first college graduate in her mother’s family. In 2007, she marries me. We return to El Salvador often, and hope to take our children soon, where we plan to worship in the beautiful chapel that now stands near the center of Santiago de María.[3]


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. November 1, 2015

The bishop of the Logan Ward in Philadelphia stands before the congregation and reads a letter from the First Presidency. ?It is with great concern and compassion,” he quotes, “that we observe the plight of the millions of people around the world who have fled their homes seeking relief from civil conflict and other hardships.? The bishop, with tears in his eyes, then offers a short sermon, noting that for many members of the congregation that day, these issues are quite personal. I look around the chapel. Many others in the pews are also in tears. I realize then that my own eyes and cheeks are wet. During Sunday School and the third hour, several members—including many of the West African congregants, some of whom fled bloody civil wars in their native lands of Liberia and Sierra Leone—speak of the assistance they received from both Americans in general, and Latter-day Saints in particular. They speak also of the need to now pay that kindness forward. This, they testify, is what the gospel and the church is about.


[1] My thanks to Alan Morrell, who posted the full text of the resolutions on facebook.

[2] For more on the history of Mormonism in the former Ottoman Empire, see “The Armenian Exodus” at lds.org, curated by James Goldberg and based on the exhaustive research of Ardis Parshall, some of which she has posted at her blog, Keepapitchin. Fair warning: You won’t be able to stop reading, and it’ll likely take up a good chunk of your day.

[3] I have begun collecting oral history interviews with my wife’s family members in El Salvador, and eventually hope to write more about the history of Mormonism in El Salvador. If you would like to assist in anyway—sharing your own experiences there or with Salvador immigrants in your American congregations, transcribing and translating the interviews conducted, etc.—please let me know.

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Modern Mormonism Categories of Periodization: Origins Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period Current Events International Mormonism


  1. Christopher, thanks for this powerful reminder that refugees are not Other, but Us.

    Comment by Saskia — November 18, 2015 @ 10:17 am

  2. May I add one more? In 1945, as the Russians surrounded her hometown in Lithuania, 85-year-old Anna Egliens Schulzke, a longtime Latter-day Saint and one of the last ethnic Germans in Memel, joined a refugee column trying to reach Berlin, where she hoped to find her stepdaughter, Marta. Anna disappeared somewhere on the road, in Lithuania or Poland, and was never heard from again.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 18, 2015 @ 11:35 am

  3. Thanks, Saskia, for reading and commenting.

    Yes, please, and thank you, Ardis. In fact, I would love if other readers would also leave comments here of other stories relevant to the topic.

    Comment by Christopher — November 18, 2015 @ 11:53 am

  4. One more I’ve debated telling, because I’m still working on it and of course want to feature it at Keepa. But it belongs here, too.

    Hundreds of second- and third-generation Mormons were caught on the Russian side of occupied Germany at the end of World War II. They crossed Poland and Germany, sometimes as organized branches and sometimes alone. It was illegal to cross into the Western-occupied zones, but of course many tried.

    There was a non-Mormon man near Frankfurt married to an LDS woman, who had a nursery (gardening) business, which of course was a necessary industry and one that didn’t rely on bombed infrastucture. Any Latter-day Saint who made it across the border to Frankfurt was given housing and food and a job. We’re talking dozens of refugee Mormon families, who arrived barefoot, ill, cold, robbed, raped, in desperate need in every way, and this good man took them all in. His story couldn’t be told at the time because of political jeopardy, but soon …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 18, 2015 @ 5:33 pm

  5. Really moving reminder, Christopher. Thank you.

    Comment by JJohnson — November 18, 2015 @ 5:58 pm

  6. And thanks to Ardis to the addition…

    Comment by JJohnson — November 18, 2015 @ 5:58 pm

  7. This is some moving stuff, Christopher. Thank you.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 18, 2015 @ 7:35 pm

  8. Regarding your October 22, 2012 post “Found in the Archives: James Covel in Canada, circa 1818?”:

    Rev. James Covel, Jr. (1796-1845)
    “old” Mount Ida Cemetery, Pawling Avenue, Troy, New York

    Comment by Christopher K. Philippo — November 18, 2015 @ 8:24 pm

  9. These are really moving. Thank you for sharing, Christopher and Ardis.

    Comment by Jeff T — November 18, 2015 @ 10:26 pm

  10. Thanks, jjohnson, Stapley, and Jeff T, for your kind words. And thanks especially to Ardis for sharing that remarkable story. I look forward to seeing the full write-up at Keepa at some point in the future.

    And thanks for sharing that link, Christopher K. Philippo. I knew Covel, Jr., was buried near Troy, but have never seen the headstone.

    Comment by Christopher — November 19, 2015 @ 8:04 am

  11. No problem. Do you know where James Covel, Sr. might be?

    The Methodist Ministers’ Lot in Mount Ida Cemetery is scarcely recognizable as such. All the marble tablet headstones in it are laid flat and largely buried. If I had to guess why Covel’s is more broken than the others, it would be because it’s closest to the paved driveway and also that general area seems to be a popular parking spot for people who go to the cemetery to walk dogs or fish. I would guess the headstone’s been driven over a fair bit.

    Some restoration work was done in the cemetery earlier this year thanks to a neighborhood improvement microgrant from an RPI fraternity. Whether that will be available again, I’m not sure. If you should happen to learn of other sources for grants for cemetery restoration work, please let me know!

    Comment by Christopher K. Philippo — November 19, 2015 @ 9:19 am

  12. Yes. Covel, Sr. was most likely buried in the Old Methodist Burying Ground in Brooklyn. In 1856, the bodies at that cemetery were disinterred and moved to Cypress Hills Cemetery. I’ve been in touch with the staff there, and they have no record of Covel being buried there. I haven’t had the chance to visit and explore myself, but I fear that the precise location of his final resting place is almost certainly unknown.

    Comment by Christopher — November 19, 2015 @ 10:14 am

  13. Moving stories, all. I especially liked your personal connection to the topic. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — November 19, 2015 @ 1:42 pm

  14. Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate it.

    Comment by Christopher — November 19, 2015 @ 4:01 pm

  15. Er, you’re in Logan Ward? Have I met you?

    Nice collection. Can the victims of an indigenous slave trade be defined as refugees? If so perhaps you could add the stories of the native children taken into Mormon homes in early Utah either as servants, slaves, or members of the family (see Bennion, Captivity, Adoption, Marriage and Identity, UNLV, 2012).

    Comment by Amy T — November 19, 2015 @ 4:42 pm

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    Pingback by Mormon News, November 16?20 | Signature Books — November 20, 2015 @ 1:21 pm

  17. I don’t think so, Amy. Do you live in the area?

    Comment by Christopher — November 20, 2015 @ 4:04 pm

  18. Yes. Hopefully someone has told you about the local chapter of SUP. (All welcome including spouses, families, and people without pioneer heritage.) They host excellent speakers: some fascinating temple construction history recently, Thomas Alexander a few months back, Professor Bushman a few years ago. The last meeting was German LDS history but my husband and I couldn’t make it. The meetings tend to be out toward Washington Crossing/Pennypack. Fun crowd. (If you like Mormon history, of course.)

    Comment by Amy T — November 20, 2015 @ 8:10 pm

  19. […] “‘For Ye Were Strangers’: Four Short Vignettes on Mormon(s) (and) Refugees.” This recent post adds contextual and humanizing background to modern political […]

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