Mshairfeh, Jerash, Jordan
Anyone who knows me well knows that I have very little patience for people who lecture others in order to convert them to any particular religious belief. But anyone who truly knows me knows that I have no objections to people who seek to change hearts through their actions. Jesus preached social transformation by deeds, not words, and I have nothing but admiration for those who embody their love of Christ by doing good works to benefit others. While I regularly turn away the Mormons who come knocking at my door in the States, I have great admiration for the work that LDS volunteers are doing in Jordan.
On one hand, it’s about the effect they have had on individual people who are dear to me, namely Wijdan’s family and the social welfare society she chairs in Mshairfeh. In addition to the material support they provided for the latter, the previous LDS Volunteers provided tremendous moral and financial aid to Wijdan. In short, the series of LDS Volunteers who have aided Mshairfeh have been good friends to Wijdan and her family. They supported her through a major marital crisis, they’ve helped her manage the complex politics of chairing a voluntary society, they hired her for occasional translation jobs, and they took her to the hospital and home again when Taqwa was born.
On the other hand, it’s the philosophy of development that the current LDS Volunteers were espousing to me at Wijdan’s. Their impact has now spread from a dozen societies to over 3 dozen societies in the Irbid and Jerash areas, and in part their philosophy has changed because it’s become impractical to serve everyone directly. At the same time, however, it has become possible for societies to help each other, with the LDS Charities merely facilitating, coordinating and helping to provide funds and supplies for the projects in place. The schoolbags they’re providing for local children are being sewn and filled by a local society. Another society is assembling hygiene kits. Another is assembling kits for newborns. Another society is teaching villages in the region how to grow and market mushrooms. When a container load of wheelchairs arrives shortly in Jordan, they will be working with Peace Corps Volunteers and local societies like Wes’s center in Irbid and Arwen’s family’s charity Eleanor’s Project to distribute the wheelchairs where they’re most needed (perhaps in response to the fate of the last load of wheelchairs, which ended up in some local official’s private stash). Sustainability is their byword, they said, and I believe it’s the only way to go! “Strengthening Families” is their motto, but they’re doing more than that; they’re strengthening the grass-roots civil society movements that support local families, too.
In fact, it’s not just about what they do in Jordan. I remember how impressed I was with what I’d heard about the LDS Charities when I was mucking out houses in New Orleans. It took FEMA, famously, months to get relief supplies into the areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. The LDS Charities, on the other hand, had the essentials packed in container trucks and the drivers on standby 3 days before the hurricane struck, and were on the road as soon as it was clear where they would be needed. Consequently, their supplies were on site precisely when they were needed.