by Tania Hernandez-Andersen, Vice President of Marketing & Communications
|Pictured: Som, a former refugee from Bhutan, and his family. Som now works as a refugee case manager with the Refugee Resettlement Program at Lutheran Community Services Northwest, a member of the LSA network.|
My father was a refugee. I don't think about that often, but I was jolted back to this realization when I attended the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee (LIRS) "Walk of Courage" event. Each year, this event honors people fleeing persecution for a better life, and the people who prayerfully and humbly work in communities around the United States to help them realize that better life.
Each year, LIRS hosts the Walk of Courage event to recognize those who contribute so much to this work, including presenting the "Walk of Faith" and "Walk of Courage" awards. This year, a few members of the LSA team were fortunate to attend this event in Baltimore on October 28, and hear firsthand the stories of challenges met and hope renewed for people from all over the world who have made their way to our shores in search of a better life and freedom.
The story of an 11-year old boy who journeyed thousands of dangerous miles by himself from Honduras to California in the hopes of being reunited with his mother.
The story of a young Sudanese woman who found herself experiencing snow for the first time when her family was resettled in South Dakota in the middle of winter when she was just a teenager. As emcee for the event, Nyamal Tutdeal shared her personal journey and said "this is humanity at its best."
The story of a pastor who answered the call to help displaced persons in Europe during WWII and who has dedicated his life to serving refugees, spending close to seven decades helping and inspiring countless numbers of people.
These stories invoked smiles, and tears … and hope.
LIRS is a 76-year old organization that was born of a need during WWII to help people fleeing Nazi horrors to begin new lives in the United States. For more than three-quarters of a century, they have walked alongside refugees, migrants and unaccompanied children to lead them faithfully to lives of dignity and fulfillment in the welcoming arms of America.
My father was a child like this. Born in what at the time was West Germany in a camp for "displaced persons" in 1946 after his family fled the Soviet invasion of Latvia, he was three years old when he and his family arrived in New York, and were later welcomed by a Russian Orthodox congregation in southern New Jersey.
The pastor who was honored for his seventy-plus years (and counting) serving refugees, the Reverend Doctor Kenneth Senft, was called to serve at a camp for displaced persons in West Germany that was predominantly for families who had fled Latvia as a result of the war. I realized in talking to the pastor's daughter that there was a very strong chance that her father had ministered to and helped my dad and his family back in the days after WWII ended. Pastor Senft said, "A walk of faith is never alone." How can you ever thank someone for saving a father's life and walking alongside a family, giving them hope and a new beginning? How can you measure the impact that the caring acts of one person can make on a whole future generation?
There are more than 50 million people currently displaced. The world is facing the worst refugee crisis since WWII. As LIRS's CEO Linda Hartke put it, there are "God-sized needs affecting refugees and migrants around the world…we are responding to God's call to love and serve the neighbors he gives to us." Now more than ever we are reminded of the strength of our country and the long tradition we have of standing for welcome, and the importance that refugees and new Americans have in our nation's incredible history.
We count dozens of organizations among our members of the Lutheran Services in America network that work actively with LIRS to resettle people in their communities, and we honor and thank our members for their work. From a warm smile and a winter coat when they greet a new arrival at the airport, to helping someone enroll in an English language class and find employment to creating connections between new Americans and welcoming congregations, our Lutheran social ministry organizations are invaluable and incredible partners in weaving the multi-layered, colorful and diverse fabric of our communities.
Members like: Ascentria Care Alliance, Concordia Place, Lutheran Services Florida, Liberty Lutheran, Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota, Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, Lutheran Community Services of the Northwest, Lutheran Family Services Nebraska, Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, Lutheran Services Carolinas, Lutheran Services of Georgia, Lutheran Settlement House, Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, Lutheran Social Services of New York, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest, Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan and Upbring (the new Lutheran Social Services of the South).
We honor and thank them for their work.
In 1949, America stood for welcome when a displaced family from Dagopils, Latvia landed on its shores, with nothing but the clothes they could carry, and hope for a better life. And America stands for welcome today.
Learn more about LIRS: http://lirs.org/
Read LIRS's statement on the recent terror attacks and the American response to the refugee crisis: http://blog.lirs.org/lirs-response-to-isis-attacks-and-syrian-refugee-resettlement/
More on the Walk of Courage event and those recognized: http://blog.lirs.org/reflecting-on-a-walk-of-courage/