Dean Lauma Zusevics of the Latvian Lutheran Church in America to be Consecrated as Archbishop

Dean Lauma Zusevics leading the prayer at the 75th Anniversary Walk of Courage Award Gala.

Dean Lauma Zusevics leading the prayer at the 75th Anniversary Walk of Courage Award Gala.

I’m deeply honored to share that Dean Lauma Zusevics of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (LELCA/LELBA) will be consecrated as Archbishop of the LELCA on April 19. Currently Dean Lauma serves as pastor of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Holy Trinity Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As Archbishop, she will represent the Latvian Lutheran Church outside of Latvia.

Latvian Lutherans seeking asylum after the Second World War were one of the first groups of people LIRS cared for. And now, LELCA, along with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, is a partner of LIRS, walking alongsidemigrants from around the world as they rebuild their lives in the United States.

Dean Lauma has been a robust partner in this ministry. She served as the LELCA liaison to LIRS, fostering a strong relationship between both organizations. Last year, she led the opening prayer at LIRS’s 75th Anniversary Walk of Courage Award Gala, encouraging people of faith to welcome newcomers, as we are all migrants.

I will be attending Dean Lauma’s consecration this weekend in Milwaukee, and am profoundly proud to support her as she continues on the journey of spreading God’s love.

The Music of Pre-Hispanic Instruments – Through Courageous Eyes

Courageous-Eyes-WebBanner-2Today’s Through Courageous Eyes post features Gerardo Calderón, leader of the musical group Grupo Condor. Calderón was mentioned in a previous LIRS blog post called “Flower and Song” Poetry of Mesoamerica – Through Courageous Eyes for his collaborative work with the poet Cindy Williams Gutiérrez.

Gerardo Calderón

Gerardo Calderón. Credit: Nelda Reyes

The Through Courageous Eyes blog series features migrant and refugee artists and is curated by Cecilia Pessoa, LIRS Communications Associate.

Gerardo Calderón is originally from Mexico City, but now lives in Portland, Oregon. He plays music and leads educational workshops across the United States with his musical group, Grupo Condor. They focus on Latin American folk music using pre-Hispanic instruments. The musical instruments Calderón plays are pre-Hispanic including clay flutes, water drums, rain sticks, butterfly cocoon rattles, turtle shells, and jaguar whistles.

Cecilia Pessoa (CP): How did you become interested in pre-Hispanic music?

Gerardo Calderón (GC): I was born and raised in Mexico City. While living in Mexico, I never thought about the possibility of playing pre-Hispanic music. It was when I moved to the United States that I became very interested in learning about my culture, my background and most importantly, I became interested in the roots of the music from my country. It was a long process to enter this fascinating world of the clay flutes, drums, poetry, and dance.

Calderón playing one of his clay flutes.

Calderón playing one of his clay flutes. Credit: Nelda Reyes, Gerardo Calderón

CP: What is a question you often get about your music and what is the answer?

GC: The question people ask me the most is, “How many instruments do you play and which one is your favorite?” My answer is very simple, I ask the audience to count how many instruments they see on the tables and then multiply them by three. But I always tell the audience that my main instrument is the guitar.

The second answer to the questions is, the instrument I am playing at that moment is my favorite instrument.


The array of pre-Hispanic instruments. Credit: Gerardo Calderón

CP: Do you have any favorite songs to play, stories you share, instruments, or styles? 

GC: I don’t have specific songs I like to play in particular. I like all the songs I play, but for some reason I play specific songs more often than others.

What I like to say to the audience is how I make my instruments. Some of the instruments I make and build have very good explanations.

I play my guitar most of the time because it is the tool I use to compose or to learn songs. When I am in the process of composing I like to play a lot of instruments because in this process I always look for specific sounds to combine. Having a large collection of instruments is a great advantage. I like to play and explore different styles of music.

CP: Are guitars pre-Hispanic instruments? 

GC: The stringed instruments were introduced to the American continent by the Europeans, and some of the percussion instrument were introduced by the African people that came to this continent. The string instruments are fairly new to this continent.

CP: Which of your instruments do you make?

GC: The instruments I make are: the rainstick (chicahuastli) originally from Mexico, the water drum, the Bombo (bass drum), pan flutes, ceremonial drums, and the turtle box. The turtle box is an instrument I invented.


Close-up of the instrument collection. Credit: Gerardo Calderón

CP: What are your upcoming projects or performances?

GC: Well, I think the best way to hear about my upcoming performances is by going to my website. We [Grupo Condor] offer educational programs and more so, everything we do is on our site.

CP: Do you have any recordings or photos of performances or of your instruments to include in the post?

GC: Yes, I do have some recordings. You can listen to the recordings on my website Grupo Condor.

Find all the previous posts in the Through Courageous Eyes series.

Through Courageous Eyes features the artistic work of refugees and migrants. If you would like to showcase your artwork as part of the Through Courageous Eyes series, please contact Cecilia Pessoa at

Banner photo credit: Johanan Ottensooser

I Never Thought I Would Be a Refugee: LIRS Academy Graduate Shares Her Courageous Journey

Faith Cooper with youngest students at Sis Iye Orphanage in Monrovia.

Faith Cooper with the youngest students at Sis Iye Orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia.

Today, I’d like to share the continued conversation with Faith Akovi Cooper, LIRS Academy graduate and former refugee from Liberia. Last week, Faith described how being a refugee shaped her career, and how, ironically, she has helped strengthen Liberia’s disaster management system, the same country she once fled. Today, Faith describes what it was like to flee for her life as a child: walking on foot day after day without food, witnessing brutality, and not knowing if her parents were dead or alive. Faith’s experience impressed upon her the importance human life, and how it is so often undervalued.

This interview was conducted by Juliet Sohns, LIRS Outreach Intern.

Juliet Sohns (JS): How can we as members of society take ownership and fulfill our moral responsibility to protect the innocent and alleviate suffering in the United States and around the world?

Faith Akovi Cooper (FC): I truly believe that every individual has a moral responsibility to protect vulnerable populations, especially children. Growing up as a child in Liberia, I never once imagined I would become a refugee, live in a refugee camp for years and be resettled in a foreign country. My personal experience surviving the Liberian war has made me what I am today!  Similar to many other survivors around the world, I use my experience to guide my life’s direction.  I crossed over from Liberia to neighboring Ivory Coast on foot, walking for many days, daylight and nightfall, stopping for only brief moments to rest, and back on our feet again. We lost count after the third day of walking with no food, at times drinking dirty creek water, crying from severe leg pain as a result of walking.  I witnessed brutal rape, beheadings and unimaginable human suffering, something that no child should ever experience.  We were separated from our parents during the escape and would leave Liberia without knowing if they were dead or alive.

My personal experience has shaped everything I do in life. Apart from my professional work in global health, I am also living my passion of working with refugees around the world. I volunteer at refugee camps and orphanages in Africa, teaching youth about the importance of education and how to prevent against HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy and other sexual/reproductive health challenges that are highly prevalent in refugee camps.  I’ve been successful in using my network in the United States to raise awareness about these issues and to collect school supplies camps and orphanages.  People genuinely want to help and some just don’t know how to.

We as members of society must make it our moral duty to educate one another about the value of human life. Whether it is in the United States or other part of the world, I don’t think we place enough value on human life. As a mother of two little girls, five years and 19 months old, I’ve made a vow to teach them about the importance of respect for people and overall human life. One of my favorite quotes is “teach one reach one.” If I can teach just one person about the importance of alleviating human suffering, they will impart the knowledge to another and another and ultimately, the world.  I strongly believe in changing the world one person at a time.

JS: What advice do you give refugees who have recently resettled in the United States?

FC: Simply put, pay it forward.  Every year, thousands of refugees resettle in the United States from around the world.  Imagine, there were 40,000 plus refugees at the Liberian refugee camp, Buduburam in the early 90s, and my family was one of the few thousands resettled to the United States, because of groups such as LIRS advocated for refugee opportunities.  Most refugees come to this country with the goal of one day returning home!  I did the same and so will many others.  Most importantly, we come to escape human atrocities and to take advantage of opportunities to better ourselves. However, let’s not forget that to “whom much is given, much is expected.” Paying it forward means reaching back to lift those who cannot lift themselves. 

JS: How did participating in the World Refugee Day Academy help you pursue your passions?

FC: World Refugee Day Academy was truly a dynamic experience.  My experience at the Academy made me reflect on the importance of helping other refugees adjust in the United States.  I met and interacted with people from all walks of life and have made lifelong friends. My passion is the community! The Academy reignited that passion, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity!

JS: What are the specific challenges that you see your refugee community in Virginia struggle with?

FC: I am a mentor to many young people, several are children born to refugee parents in the United States and others are survivors of war who have resettled in the United States.  While I am not necessarily linked to any particular refugee group, I’ve made it my life’s work to mentor. I am where I am today because others sacrificed, mentored, and guided me along the way.  One of the major challenges I’ve observed through my mentoring work is the lack of mentors for refugee children.  I would encourage LIRS to advocate for the involvement of more former refugees to serve as mentors for immigrant children.

Photo credit: Faith Cooper

Separation and Safety – Top Picks of the Immigration and Refugee Blogosphere

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With the Syrian conflict extending past four years now, the number of refugees has nearly reached four million. So far only 6% have been resettled to third countries, and only a few hundred to the United States. As the country prepares to accept more Syrian refugees in the coming years, we continue to work for more welcoming communities for all refugees and migrants making the courageous journey to the United States.

Please email me or comment if you have any thoughts about this week’s Top Picks. Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog, and I look forward to sharing the best online commentary on immigration and refugee issues.

Photo Credit: Wilson X

HEADLINES: Immigration – April 15, 2015

button_icon_immigration_headlinesThe damaging effects of the mistreatment of detainees and harsh immigration policies have come to light this past week. In the face of this, courageous migrants and their supporters have fought for changes to these policies and practices. Visit our blog for HEADLINES: Immigration. I’ll bring you all the most important and up-to-date news on the immigration debate.

Immigrant Dies in GEO Group Facility After Three Weeks of Ignored Symptoms, Says Attorney [New Times Broward-Palm Beach]

We’ve Been Asking Mexico to Detain Migrant Kids for Us. Here’s What That Looks Like. [Mother Jones]

Smuggled into U.S., Brothers Get Second Chance with Dependency Ruling [Miami Herald]

Immigration Reform News 2015: Texas Judge Refuses to Lift Freeze Order on Obama Administration’s Immigration Plans [The Christian Times]

Why Are So Few ‘Dreamers’ Getting AZ Driver’s Licenses? [AZ Central]

Hmong Give Other Immigrant Groups Important Lessons and Help [LaCrosse Tribune]

Companies Labor to Get Visas for Skilled Foreign Professionals [Star Tribune]

LIRS to Host Workshops on Family Immigration Detention at Ecumenical Advocacy Days

Incarceration6x4This Friday, over a thousand people of faith from across the country will travel to Washington, DC for the 13th Annual National Gathering of Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice. Every year, Ecumenical Advocacy Days chooses a different theme and this year’s gathering will focus on mass incarceration. This topic comes at a particularly important time as the Obama Administration continues to expand the inhumane practice of family detention for mothers and children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America and seeking refuge in the United States.

To continue to shed light on family detention, LIRS will be hosting a number of events and workshops during Ecumenical Advocacy Days, including:

  • Alternatives to Detention: Success in Our Communities: This workshop will focus in part on community-based alternative to detention programs for immigrants. Sister JoAnn Persch from the Sisters of Mercy in Chicago, a network partner of LIRS, will present on the Sisters’ community-based alternative to detention model.
  • Skills Workshop on America’s Immigration Detention System: In this skills workshop, LIRS’s Access to Justice staff will walk participants through America’s vast immigration detention system and offer skills and opportunities to advocate for reduced reliance on detention. Staff will give background information on the detention of adults and families. Presenters will also offer concrete opportunities to get involved, including LIRS’s detention visitation ministry.
  • Lobby Day Lunch: Join LIRS for an informal and educational lunch on Capitol Hill during Ecumenical Advocacy Day’s Lobby Day. This gathering will provide an opportunity to learn more about the inhumane practice of family detention and the political and legislative state of play surrounding this issue. Please RSVP in advance here!

If you are attending Ecumenical Advocacy Days, we would love to see you at any or all of these events! We are looking forward to spotlighting family detention, especially at a time when every family detention center is expanding and vulnerable mothers and children are locked up. Momentum to end this inhumane practice is growing, but we need your voice to protect the vulnerable and welcome the newcomer.

Visit LIRS’s Action Center today to tell your member of Congress that family detention must be stopped.

Photo Credit: Jenn Vargas

The Frequently Asked Questions of Family Detention


A devastating number of families fled violence in Central America throughout 2014. But instead of offering critical protection to these families, our government has confined them in detention centers. As family immigration detention continues to grow, LIRS’s actions have only become more courageous.

The FAQs below are a part of the inaugural issue of the Stand for Welcome Quarterly newsletter. Subscribe to receive the enewsletter and regular e-alerts here.

Q: Why are families detained?
A: The Department of Homeland Security maintains that the detention of families coming from Central America is necessary to deter other families from making the same journey;  however, in February 2015, a federal judge issued a temporary court injunction prohibiting using deterrence as a reason to detain immigrations. After that injunction, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reviewed each detained family on the basis of flight risk and risk to community safety.

The prospect of detention will not deter those who are fleeing for their lives and seeking safety for their children. Immigration detention has a very narrow purpose of ensuring that people facing deportation comply with court dates and court orders. Learn more through LIRS’s Family Detention Backgrounder.

Q: How much does it cost to keep families detained?
A: Current average costs for family detention is estimated at $343 per person per day or over $1,200 a day for a family of four.  This is far more expensive than traditional immigration detention, which is already a staggering $160 a day. A bill passed on March 3, 2015 to increase spending on family detention to $362 million annually, and to fund the detention of 3,732 mothers and children each day.

Q: What is the alternative to detention?
A:  There are many alternatives to detention, such as releasing individuals on their own recognizance, on parole, to a sponsor or family member in the United States, or to a community support program. Alternatives to detention that are currently used boast nearly perfect compliance rates and range in cost from only $.17 per day to $17.78 per day, per person. Laern more through LIRS’s Alternatives to Detention Backgrounder.

Send a message through the LIRS Action Center to urge your elected official to end the harmful and inhumane practice of family immigration detention.

Washington, DC Event Features Art and Stories from Refugee Youth

Refugee youth from Burma working on art.

Refugee youth from Burma working on art.

We are fortunate to have strong partners who stand for welcome beside us and lift up the courageous voices of migrants and refugees.

LIRS has partnered with Lutheran Social Services/National Capital Area (LSS/NCA) for a unique event to raise these stories. Titled Refugee Voices and Visions, the event will feature artwork by refugee youth from Burma who have sought safety in Thai refugee camps. Adding depth and perspective to the images, youth from Burma who are now rebuilding their lives here in the United States will share their personal journey, from fleeing Burma, to their existence in refugee camps, to now, finding their new lives in the United States.

The event will include a question and answer panel discussion with Erika Berg, author of the new book, Forced to Flee: Visual Stories by Refugee Youth from Burma, Melissa Graves, LIRS board member and CEO of LSS-NCA, and Joseph Lewis, a resettled refugee from Liberia. Joseph is a Lutheran and a Washington DC Metropolitan police officer.

Refugee Voices and Visions will be held in Washington, DC, on April 15 from 10:30am to 12:00pm at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation. The Lutheran Church of the Reformation is located at 212 East Capitol Street, NE, Washington, DC 20003. The event will be hosted in the Parish Hall.

Please help promote the event to your area network! For more information and to RSVP, please contact Juliet Sohns at or by phone at 202-626-7948.

Photo credit: Erika Berg

Dreams of Freedom – Through Courageous Eyes


This is a guest post by Christina Fialho, co-founder and executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). CIVIC is a non-profit that uses visitation programs, monitoring, and advocacy to end the isolation and mistreatment of immigrants held in detention. The story originally ran in Arts and Culture section of The Huffington Post as “Words Beyond Walls: Dreams of Freedom.”

The Through Courageous Eyes blog series features migrant and refugee artists and is curated by Cecilia Pessoa, LIRS Communications Associate.

Christina writes:

“Wake me up when I’m in heaven.” These are the opening words of M.E.’s poem, which speaks to the challenges of prolonged immigration detention. M.E. is the second writer and artist in CIVIC‘s series of blog posts called “Words Beyond Walls.” M.E. has been in immigration detention since June 23, 2013, and he is currently detained at the Worcester County Jail in Snow Hill, Maryland.

2015-03-30-1427738640-8378990-M.E._JesusMen and women in U.S. immigration detention have limited access to therapeutic activities, such as writing and drawing. In fact, art supplies are difficult to obtain. Some commissaries offer colored pencils, but most artists use small pencils without erasers. With nothing more than a graphite pencil, M.E. draws emotionally-charged religious images, such as the one pictured above of Jesus Christ. Despite his imprisonment with little due process, M.E. remains full of hope that soon he will be freed and allowed to remain in the United States with his girlfriend, family, and friends.

Until the U.S. government releases him, M.E. finds joy in visits from family members and the DC Visitation Network, a volunteer-run visitation program that provides friendship and support through monthly visits to people detained at Worcester. M.E.’s artwork is what keeps him motivated between these visits, and his artwork is often accompanied by poetry and dreams of reuniting with loved ones on the outside. These are M.E.’s words beyond walls:


Wake me up when I’m free in Heaven. I cannot deal with this life of prison: when I’m told I’m not allowed because of my race and color; where people think they can rule over others.

They rule with ignorance.

But my inner eye can see a race of people who live in poverty, working, sweating hard in fields to provide food for their family. Seeking a better life. Seeking for a better future.

Wake me up when I’m free in heaven. Where every man speaks beautifully. Where all races are equal. Where war is gone because it is peaceful.

But I awake from this dream. I see life as a prisoner. I see hate, jealously, foolishness, envy, harassment, hypocrisy, judgment, and poverty.

Wake me up when I’m free in Heaven, for I’d rather have wisdom and be poor than be rich and be a fool.

Wake me up when I’m free in Heaven.

-M.E., June 25, 2013, 2014, 2015, ICE

CIVIC will be sending M.E. all the reader comments posted to the original article, “Words Beyond Walls: Dreams of Freedom.” Please leave comments or encouragement for him to receive.

Find all the previous posts in the Through Courageous Eyes series.

Through Courageous Eyes features the artistic work of refugees and migrants. If you would like to showcase your artwork as part of the Through Courageous Eyes series, please contact Cecilia Pessoa at

Banner photo credit: Johanan Ottensooser

Setbacks and Successes — Top Picks of the Immigration and Refugee Blogosphere

image (5)The last week has brought to light many of the issues with our current immigration system including high demands for limited skilled worker visas and the need for access to drivers’ licenses and healthcare. However, while there are deep challenges, the landscape contains some successes as well for immigrants and refugees in the United States. Read more in our blog round-up below.

Please email me or comment if you have any thoughts about this week’s Top Picks. Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog, and I look forward to sharing the best online commentary on immigration and refugee issues.

Photo Credit: Kathryn McCallum