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Backed by a multiethnic female choir representing more than 50 countries, Mormon women leaders exhorted the faithful Saturday night to use their time, talents and spiritual gifts to aid refugees.

"As we consider the pressing calls of those who need our help, let's ask ourselves, 'What if their story were my story?' " Linda K. Burton, general Relief Society president, said during the opening session of the Utah-based faith's 186th Annual General Conference. "May we then seek inspiration, act on impressions we receive, and reach out in unity to help those in need as we are able and inspired to do so."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has organized a relief effort called "I Was a Stranger," Burton told thousands of Mormon women and girls from age 8 and up gathered in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and multitudes more watching across the globe. "It is our hope that you will prayerfully determine what you can do — according to your own time and circumstance — to serve the refugees living in your neighborhoods and communities. This is an opportunity to serve one on one , in families and by organization to offer friendship, mentoring, and other Christlike service and is one of many ways sisters can serve."

Burton echoed last year's plea from the faith's governing First Presidency inviting "church units, families and individuals to participate in local refugee projects" to assist the millions who have fled civil strife and other hardships.

The First Presidency's three members, including LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, attended Saturday's women's session ,as did three Mormon apostles — Jeffrey R. Holland, D. Todd Christofferson and Ronald A. Rasband — the presiding bishop, Gérald Caussé, and board members of the three women's and children's organizations.

The never-before-seen choir, led by Lillian Severinsen, "symbolized" the church's global reach, speakers said. Wearing simple white blouses and black skirts, singers came from seven stakes (groups of congregations) across the greater Salt Lake City area, and included refugees from Sierra Leone, Thailand, Kenya, Cambodia and other far-flung regions. Some knew little or no English, but were able to master the lyrics and harmony of several Mormon hymns.

Rosemary M. Wixom, general president of the Primary, for children under 12, conducted the service-themed meeting.

"When we reach out in love and service in even the smallest ways, hearts are changed and softened as others feel the love of the Lord," said Cheryl A. Esplin, second counselor in the Primary. " … All of us can incorporate some service into our daily living. We live in a contentious world. We give service when we don't criticize, when we refuse to gossip, when we stop judging, when we smile, when we say thank you, and when we are patient and kind. ... Other kinds of service take time, intentional planning and extra energy."

Every act of service, no matter how big or small, she said, is "worth our every effort."

Women were born to "mother," whether they actually have children or not, said Neill F. Marriott, second counselor in the Young Women organization, for girls ages 12 to 17.

"Think of the many ways you give life," Marriott urged listeners in the hall or watching via satellite at LDS chapels or on the Internet at home. "It could mean giving emotional life to the hopeless or spiritual life to the doubter. With the help of the Holy Ghost, we can create an emotionally healing place for the discriminated against, the rejected and the stranger. In these tender yet powerful ways, we build the kingdom of God."

Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, urged the women and girls to listen to promptings from the Holy Spirit  "to find the service the Lord would have you give to others for him"

 "A name or the face of someone in need may have come to your mind," Eyring said. "It could have been only a fleeting thought, but because of what you heard tonight, you will pray about it, trusting that God will lead you to do the good he wants for them."

The Mormon leader assured them that "as such prayers become a pattern in your life, you and others will be changed for the better."

LDS General Conference resumes again Saturday and concludes the next day.

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