Eric Shafer: What Will You Tell Your Grandchildren?
I began my pastoral ministry in the late 1970’s serving Holy Trinity Memorial Lutheran Church in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania. Just north of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Catasauqua is an old iron and silk town that, even in the 1970’s, was already past its prime. Holy Trinity was a small congregation. The ministry of its former pastor had not ended well. Good people for certain, but lots of work to do.
Shortly after I arrived, a representative of Lutheran Services of the Lehigh Valley (now called Lutheran Community Services), the local refugee resettlement partner with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, called to ask if our congregation might assume sponsorship of a Vietnamese refugee family who had found an inexpensive apartment in Catasauqua, far from their current sponsorship congregation.
I knew all about the so-called “boat people” and the massive refugee crisis in southeast Asia following the end of the war in Vietnam, with Vietnamese fleeing communism and Cambodians fleeing government-sanctioned mass genocide. I also knew our congregation was small and in recovery. I did not think we could take on this big responsibility so close to the time I had just started in ministry there.
I debated how to respond to this request. In the process, I called my older brother Byron. After listening to my concerns, Byron said simply, “What will you tell your grandchildren? What will you tell your grandchildren about this crisis and how you responded?”
We welcomed the family. It was a life-changing experience for all those involved. Not long afterward, we sponsored two Cambodian refugee families who became integral parts of our congregation.
I believe we are in another “what we tell our grandchildren” moment with Afghans, Ukrainians, Haitians, Venezuelans, and so many more, fleeing war and violence around the world and seeking protection in the U.S. What will tell our grandchildren when they ask us how we responded?
You will not be surprised when I suggest that involvement with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is a good way for each and any of us to respond to this crisis.
For more than 80 years, LIRS has worked with immigrants and refugees from all over this world, helping them to resettle here in the USA. We sometimes forget that after World War II one-sixth of the world’s Lutherans were refugees. And over these 80+ years, LIRS has helped refugees from Hungary, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, and so many others. This work continues as we helped over 10,000 Afghans, hundreds of Ukrainians, and nearly 3,000 other refugees in just last year.
Congregations and even individuals can still sponsor refugee families, of course, but there are also many other ways you can be involved to help immigrants and refugees. They are all outlined on our LIRS website, a website which is easy to remember – www.lirs.org.
For example, LIRS is helping the thousands of unaccompanied minor children who enter our country each year. You might remember the children in cages several years ago. At that time, LIRS was asked by the federal government to find foster care families for these children and was able to place more than 5,600 children into foster care! We also operate welcome centers around the country to help families who enter this country seeking asylum get the help they need to navigate that difficult process, centers which also help provide for their physical needs while the asylum process unfolds for them, a process that can take years. And, we are working with US businesses who are hungry for workers to fill their many unfilled positions, positions that our current citizens do not wish to take.
At our website - www.lirs.org - you will find information on all of these efforts plus suggestions for prayer and study, for financial support, for outreach to those in detention centers, for advocacy with local, state and national leaders and much more. Right now, for example, we need to be asking our representatives in Congress to support the bi-partisan Afghan Adjustment Act so that these refugees can remain in the USA. There you can also find out about local ways you can volunteer to help immigrants and refugees here in your community.
And, one other thing we can all do is to go to that website and sign up for the LIRS newsletter so that we can be kept informed of the issues before our church and society relating to immigrants and refugees.
The Rev. Eric C. Shafer is the “Pastor in Residence” for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and is available to visit your congregation to share LIRS’ ministry. Founded in 1939, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is the largest national faith-based nonprofit dedicated to serving vulnerable immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees in the U.S.
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