God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in time of trouble. (Psalm 46)  In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge. (Psalm 71)

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) began in the global refugee crisis precipitated by World War II. At that time one in six global refugees was a Lutheran. Since then, LIRS has become the second largest social service agency for refugee resettlement in this country, all of whom have been vetted very carefully by the U.S. government to come here to escape danger and start a new life.

Many of you are aware of LIRS’ work through your much-appreciated participation in the NC Synod’s and Lutheran Services Carolinas’ “Bishop’s Challenge” of the last few years. Nearly 2/3 of congregations in NC were involved in some way in a Circle of Welcome for new neighbors, most of whom have come from Afghanistan and Ukraine for obvious reasons. Also in the past few months, LIRS, in hopes of making their ministry known, available, and accessible to a much broader base of support, has changed its name to simply, Global Refuge. It’s still Lutheran (not just ELCA). Global Refuge IS LIRS. Think of it this way: the marketing title is Global Refuge and the practical description is Lutheran Immigration and Refuge Service.

This past Friday, an employee of Global Refuge and I sat down to lunch here in Salisbury and talked about the organization, his own story, and how we might continue as people of God to be the hands and feet God uses to be that refuge and strength for all of God’s precious ones created in God’s image. He shared with me that until he was 26, he never felt safe in his native Afghanistan. All his grandfather and father knew was a time of war and destruction. His mother was killed by the Taliban when he was two. He went to work for the U.S. military as a translator when he was 16 for office work, and when he turned 18, he gladly accompanied U.S. troops into combat, also as a translator.

He was attacked and ambushed by the Taliban several times, including once when he had his two-year-old son with him. Twice he was injured. In 2016 in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, he knew he had to leave. He lived in a small central NC town with a retired army sergeant for whom he had worked in Afghanistan. Though the U.S. government provided a housing stipend, the sergeant refused to accept any pay, citing how this Afghan had saved his troops more than once. “Save your money to bring your wife and children over,” the sergeant insisted, though it took three years for them to be vetted and admitted.

He told me his story not looking for sympathy but to emphasize that there are so many people all over the world who live amid war, poverty, inability to educate their children safely, etc. That’s why, he says, he works now for Global Refuge. He said he never knew what being happy and safe meant until he came to the U.S., and he wants to help others whom the government designates as refugees to be resettled to have the same chances as he has had. And, of course, he wants me—and us—to help, whether that be financially as contributors, personally as part of a Circle of Welcome, at the polls, in your prayers, or in any other way you can think of that might lift up the cause of and the response to refugees.

Except for those of us whose heritage is indigenous to this land, we are all refugees. Some of us came gladly, some were brutally and cruelly enslaved, and some of us had no idea where we were going but only that we had to leave home, family, possessions, and more in fear for our lives. “Welcome the stranger,” exhorts the Old Testament in several passages, “for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” The work of Global Refuge is, no matter what you name it, God’s work. Our hands.

Walking with you,

Tim signature
NC Synod Bishop

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