Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to be in New Orleans for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Grace Gathering, as well as the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. I joined LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke, as well as Director for Outreach Folabi Olagbaju, as we connected with pastors and lay people from across the country who serve migrants and refugees and who want to see these ministries grow. It was truly a blessing to witness the widespread support for migrants and refugees throughout the Grace Gathering and Churchwide Assembly. But ELCA clergy and laity did not simply express their support in words, they acted.
Prayer Vigil for Migrant Minors
Over one hundred participants joined us mid-week for a prayer vigil for migrant children and families from Central America. A small table served as the altar, adorned with tennis shoes, a passport, a water bottle, and a flashlight, reminders that the journey north is both dangerous and physically demanding.
Candles lit the route from Central America, through Mexico, and to the U.S. border where, as we speak, women and children continue to arrive, desperately seeking safety. We departed from the prayer space hungry for justice and hopeful for change.
AMMPARO Strategy Passes
Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) is an ELCA churchwide strategy which aims to accompany migrant minors at all stages of their journey – in their home countries, along the dangerous route north, and upon arrival in the United States. In English, the Spanish word amparo means “refuge.”
“O Lord my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,” Psalm 7:1
Pastor Alejandro Mejia of Greenville, SC spoke to the Assembly in support of AMMPARO, saying,
The church can make a difference in a society amidst hatred and walls. Our confessions were written against oppression and exclusion and we need to honor that and we now have the opportunity to do it.
I was born in Colombia, South America, but now I can say that my heart is Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Honduran, Mexican. They say I have changed their lives, but in reality, they changed mine.
Therefore, with all my heart as a Latino, as someone who found a future in this land, and someone who has seen brothers, sisters, parents, kids, youth with amazing dreams, that we can provide them with AMMPARO.
We are thrilled that the AMMPARO strategy was put before the churchwide assembly and passed with the support of 99% of the delegates!
Here at LIRS, we help serve and protect children after they arrive in the United States. Our Children’s Services unit provides critical care for minors through programs such as:
- Safe-Release – This program helps to reunite migrant children with safe care providers in the United States. These are often family members.
- Foster Care – We work to find loving families for unaccompanied children who do not have a family member with whom they can live in the U.S.
- Post-release Services – We provide support and education to families after they have been united with migrant children. Our goal is to empower families to stand on their own as navigate their new life together in the U.S.
Children of God Workshop
Following the AMMPARO vote, LIRS co-hosted a packed workshop with Alaide Vilchis Ibarra, Assistant Director for Migration Policy and Advocacy at the ELCA Advocacy Office. The group visited Project Ishmael, a New Orleans-based non-profit that provides legal aid to immigrant children and their families.
Pastor Sara Wohlleb of the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants in Chicago also shared about her interfaith ministry to unaccompanied migrant children who are housed in shelters in Chicago upon arriving in the U.S. On the bus ride to Project Ishmael, Pastor Wohlleb led the group in learning and singing “Peace be with You” in Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic. Just like the youth who find solace and a bit of silliness in these songs, workshop participants joined in and sang along.
Moved to action, the 50 workshop participants wrote 300 postcards with messages of hope, welcome, and encouragement which will be given to children and youth connected to Project Ishmael and the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants. After a powerful learning experience, Pastor Mejia led us in prayer for those fleeing violence in Central America and for hearts and policies in the United States to be changed.
Our team left New Orleans with full hearts, ready to continue the work of welcoming the stranger in Christ’s name.
What is your prayer for refugees? Visit refugeesunday.LIRS.org where you can share your prayer with us, learn about Refugee Sunday, and give to support migrants and refugees as they rebuild their lives.
Amanda Sheldon is the Congregational Outreach Manager at LIRS.