In Memorium: Elder Marion D. Hanks

By Maryan Myres Shumway [1]

I clearly remember many refugee stories–people who are some of my beloved friends. But I also thought of a visionary man, Elder Marion D. Hanks [1921-2011], an LDS General Authority who has a remarkable story of work with refugees. In the early 1980’s, he observed perilous conditions in Southeast Asia where he was serving as an Area Authority in Hong Kong. He too yearned for the church to become involved in the refugee effort of that decade (specifically in Southeast Asia) and thus, a few of us were called, as missionaries, to teach and work in refugee camps. However, we were absolutely not allowed to proselyte or even mention the church in any way. I was a missionary, but was strictly forbidden to talk about the church. Yet many hundreds would look up the church later in their sponsored countries

We developed an agency that helped the refugees as they waited for their sponsored countries to allow them to come. Working with other agencies like Catholic Relief Services, the Red Cross, and government and UN officials, we learned how to build a program that was highly respected. We were young, mostly inexperienced, but no one told us we couldn’t do anything. And Elder Hanks gave us all the confidence and support to make it happen. Within the space of about ten years, thousands of refugees were taught temporal and practical skills in Thailand, Hong Kong, and two camps in the Philippines.

As Elder Marion D. Hanks, who instigated missionaries to work in refugee camps under the auspices of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) taught us in the 1980’s: “Serve with no strings attached–without looking for any credit. Our purpose is to serve in a way that exemplifies pure religion. As you teach and visit with the refugees, you are sitting in proxy for the Savior.” Elder Hanks further instructed, “You are on a historical errand, and God is depending on you to give solace, comfort,and love to our brothers and sisters who have gone through a refiner’s fire.” None of us would ever be the same. How could we be?

As Elder Marion D. Hanks, who instigated missionaries to work in refugee camps under the auspices of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) taught us in the 1980’s: “Serve with no strings attached–without looking for any credit. Our purpose is to serve in a way that exemplifies pure religion. As you teach and visit with the refugees, you are sitting in proxy for the Savior.” Elder Hanks further instructed, “You are on a historical errand, and God is depending on you to give solace, comfort,and love to our brothers and sisters who have gone through a refiner’s fire.” None of us would ever be the same. How could we be?

Elder Hanks’ vision to rescue the Southeast Asian refugees altered my life, and has given them a refuge in my heart and homes all these years. When I heard Elder Patrick Kearon speak a few days ago in [Spring 2016 LDS] General Conference, my old friend’s voice intermingled in this recent talk. Elder Kearon ended with a probing thought, “The moment of being a refugee does not define them, but our response to them will help to define us.” Elder Hanks was teaching the same principle 36 years ago in the April 1980 General Conference when he said, “There are others, nearer at hand, who struggle with problems with which we must also be concerned. . . . We must have “individual concern for the strangers among us, resident or passing through.. . .” In other words, refugees can be far away in remote places, but they can be in close proximity too. It is for us to discern how to help the strangers around us.

At the end of Elder Hanks’ life, I called his dear wife, Maxine, and inquired if I could come visit him. I was coming from out of state, and had heard he was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. He had always been larger than life: eloquent, wise, inspiring. She gently cautioned me, “He may not know you. Sometimes he is lucid, and other times he is not. But I am sure he would like for you to come.”

As I walked into his hospital room that day, I could perceive as I looked into his eyes that he indeed did remember me. We spoke, with nods, and me filling up the conversation. At the end of our visit, I asked him because he had always been my teacher (and I had some of my teenage boys standing next to me), “Tell me, Elder Hanks, what is the most important thing we can do in our lives?” In his true sage-like way, without missing a beat, he looked at me with his penetrating eyes, and said, “You already know. Service.”

___________________________

[1] from bycommonconsent.com, 17 Apr 2016

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This entry was posted in Mormon Mission Experiences, mormonism, Personalities, Religion, Social Justice. Bookmark the permalink.

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