In 2017, Latter-day Saint Charities worked in 139 countries and was involved in 2,705 different humanitarian projects. That would be a tremendous amount of work for any organization, but Latter-day Saint Charities is special because it accomplishes most of its projects through volunteers and partner organizations.
These volunteers, called humanitarian missionaries by Latter-day Saint Charities, are stationed in over 50 countries around the world where they oversee projects and humanitarian work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They typically volunteer for 18 months and can serve anywhere from Armenia to Zimbabwe. There are currently 100 couples volunteering their time for Latter-day Saint Charities around the world.
Lori and Bob Thurston served as humanitarian missionary volunteers in Cambodia for 18 months. They were stationed in Phnom Penh but they worked all over the country as they coordinated and managed projects.
As an avid cyclist and former engineer, Elder Thurston enjoyed one project in particular. At the request of the minister of the Cambodian Department of the Interior, Latter-day Saint Charities worked with a local education partner to donate 500 bicycles to junior high school students. These students had been walking 90 minutes to get to school. The bikes helped more students attend their classes.
The projects that Latter-day Saint Charities works on have improved the lives of many people throughout the world. “If you could be there with us when we give someone a wheelchair for the first time or give someone rice so they can feed their orphaned grandchildren, there's just such joy,” said Sister Thurston.
Latter-day Saint Charities uses mature volunteer couples to manage and inspect projects around the world, but the Thurstons were quick to point out that their work assignments weren’t usually physically strenuous.
“Some people worry that we were out shoveling and digging wells,” said Sister Thurston. “We weren't doing the manual labor, though. We were hiring locals who now had a good job, and with Elder Thurston's engineering background he was able to help them learn helpful skills.”
Though Elder Thurston had a background that was relevant to their work in Cambodia, the Thurstons noted that the most important part of their service was building relationships and working with partner organizations.
“We really enjoyed working with partners,” Elder Thurston said. “We worked with everyone, from other Christian churches, to NGOs, to companies. We developed some really powerful friendships and relationships.”
“We couldn't believe the joy and the friendships we made,” said Sister Thurston. “Being able to focus on a whole different set of people's problems. You walk out the door and there's so much need everywhere. We knew it would be rewarding.”
If you would like to learn more about becoming a Latter-day Saint Charities full-time volunteer, visit https://seniormissionary.churchofjesuschrist.org/srsite/