Sharon Eubank: Eight Years, Three Steps

Sharon Eubank is Director of Latter-day Saint Charities. The following is an edited transcript of her video presentation at the July 2022 Windsor Dialogue conference.

Eight Years

I am so pleased to be at the Windsor Dialogue once again. I want you to think about what you were doing in the year 2014, eight years ago. You may have had a different job, probably a different hairstyle; you may have moved house since then. Certainly, the cast of characters on the world stage has rotated. Think of the children in your life and how much they have grown in the past eight years.

Eight years ago, in the summer of 2014, ISIS fighters and local collaborators attacked religious minorities living in northern Iraq, including the ancient, peaceful Yazidi people. Yazidis, Christians, and Shia all fled their ancestral lands looking for safety, and the Yazidis were especially targeted. Thousands of them were killed; other thousands were brutalized and enslaved, and homes and infrastructures and places of worship were destroyed. The world was shocked at the barbarity. But we live in a world of many shocking things, and over the years attention has turned away from this crisis to fresh atrocities.

One of the most important aspects of the Windsor Dialogue that was founded by Baroness Emma Nicholson, Bishop Alastair Redfern, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland is that it has consistently over eight years continued to focus attention on this unresolved issue. It has sought at the very highest halls of government, academics, religion, and public forum to highlight the work that still must be done.

The camps are still there. The temporary infrastructure is eight years older. Babies born in that first traumatic year should be in primary school learning to write. But are they? A couple who were young teenagers when they fled from the conflict were getting engaged to be married the day that I visited [their camp]. What can they expect in the next eight years of their family life?

In 2014, AMAR and Latter-day Saint Charities recognized in each other a similar focus and a commitment. So we have prioritized our work separately and jointly on medical care, emotional health, and protection of the right to worship, and we’ve explored together the overlapping roles of music, mental health, spirituality, and identity. Elder Jeffrey Holland at the Windsor Conference in 2016, and Elder Tony Perkins in the Baghdad Conference in 2018, described the Latter-day Saint journey from persecution to resilience to acceptance, hoping to draw lessons that might apply in the current case.

The conference in Baghdad brought many Iraqi faith leaders together to be able to understand Yazidi doctrinal tenets and to help them be received into the global interfaith circle. Over the past eight years, AMAR and Latter-day Saint Charities have worked together to support a state-of-the-art Primary Health Care Center located in the Khanke Camp near Dohuk. It has six satellite clinics and a mobile laboratory. Its architect was a Yazidi engineer, and he was so very proud to work on a project like this for his people. The health center is staffed by trained people from the displaced communities themselves, so doctors, nurses, lab technicians, midwives, and women’s health volunteers all work together. They have worked through shortages, conflict, the pandemic, and the tedium of life that is the camps. They have visited tent to tent to see how families are coping and to offer the help and the resources that they have available.

The theme for the 2022 Windsor conference is “Life Beyond the Camps: Freedom and Flourishing.” Return of the Yazidis back to Sinjar has slowed recently because of fresh conflict with some of Iraq’s neighbors, and this is very discouraging to the communities living in camps who long to go home.

Three Steps

What are the next steps for us attending the 2022 conference? Maybe I can just suggest three.

The first one is, keep up the focus. We can’t control politics, but we can use our positions and our platforms to direct the attention of faiths and governments and NGOs and the media to this eight-year-old issue. The Yazidis have suffered so much, and they really have few allies. So let’s keep up the focus.

The second one is to prioritize offering physical, mental, and spiritual health resources. We know physical health is critical to address, but mental health wounds are less obvious and will continue to warp and burn and scar without proper attention. People in camps need the dignity and the consolation of their faith. They need the healing and the resilience of their music. They deserve professional mental health resources, and they require emotional closure on the losses in their families. The Windsor conferences over the years have explored many kinds of resources and should continue to creatively respond to those arising needs.

And the last one is to pray. I am a believer in prayer. I believe a cause is never lost when we enlist the help of Almighty God. We are His children, and He is kindly inclined toward us as we seek for help. The Book of James in the Christian New Testament says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous [person] availeth much.” So let’s avail ourselves of the promised divine help. I invite each one of us to pray to our God for help and aid and strength when our own efforts are not enough—that He will fill in with His grace and goodness after all we can do.

And I hope the next time we meet together that you can tell me about your efforts related to any of these three suggestions, and I’ll tell you about mine. Until then, God bless us. Thank you.