American Lutherans’ longstanding tradition of supporting U.S. refugee resettlement is nowhere more evident than on Capitol Hill on June 20, World Refugee Day.
Driven to help others escape persecution and tragedy, former refugees and their Lutheran friends from across the nation are marking this day by standing together with a strong message for Congress: Persecuted people around the world see the U.S. refugee resettlement program as a beacon of hope.
“Civil war forced me to leave Liberia,” said Checago Bright, a former refugee who now calls Silver Spring, Maryland home. “My journey to America has been long and painful, but the fact that it takes me here to Washington to be a voice for refugees shows me how much the United States is a leader on human rights.”
“Afghanistan, South Sudan, Liberia, Vietnam, Iraq – we’re here from all over, together with our friends and allies from the faith community, with a message of thanks and hope that America will keep its commitment to protecting refugees overseas,” said Bright, who settled in Maryland in 2003 with the help of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). “Too many lives depend on it.”
“We’re here to ask Congress to be refugee champions,” said Eric B. Sigmon, Director for Advocacy for LIRS, which organized the visits to remind Congress of the need to keep the plight of the world’s refugees in focus. “We’re meeting with 38 congressional offices today, and we’re grateful to the former refugees who are the heart of this effort.”
“This is a very important day that’s well worth the trip to be here in Washington, not only with others who’ve participated in refugee resettlement, but also with former refugees, who have accomplished many things in their lives and are now advocating for other refugees,” said Rev. William Klettke, President, New Jersey District of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. “Today was a learning experience on the plight of millions of refugees, many of whom have been waiting in refugee camps for years or decades.”
“Refugee resettlement has been very much a part of my ministry going back over 30 years with resettling a Vietnamese family and working with refugees as district president, not only personally, but through congregations made up of immigrants and refugees primarily from Africa,” added Klettke.
“I’m proud to be part of these visits to congressional offices, and World Refugee Day is such an important event, worldwide, but especially here in Washington where I serve,” Bishop Richard Graham of the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “It’s always an honor to bring the church’s voice to bear on Capitol Hill, where people listen carefully.”
“What’s happening on the Hill today reflects American Lutherans’ deep immigrant roots and passionate commitment to welcoming newcomers,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “From the post-World War Two period, when we welcomed tens of thousands of Lutheran refugees to the United States, until now, we’ve been showing the world our faith in to action by offering hospitality and welcome.”
Fifteen former refugees and their allies are taking part in the LIRS-sponsored Capitol Hill visit marking World Refugee Day, which is celebrated by countless civic groups around the globe. The annual June 20 event was established by the United Nations to honor the courage, strength, and determination of women, men, and children who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.
Participating in the LIRS World Refugee Day delegation are: Mamadou Sy, Director of Refugee and Immigrant Services, Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area; Rev. Richard Graham, Bishop of the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Rev. William Klettke, President of the New Jersey District of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod; Val Klettke; Rev. Bart Day, Executive Director for National Missions at the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod; Mark Stutrud, President and CEO, Lutheran Social Services of Michigan; Rev. Thon “William” Chol, DC Child and Family Services and member of LIRS Board; Checago Bright, CEO, Checago Bright Foundation; Dilli Wagley, Lutheran Family Services of the Carolinas; Ljiljana Petrovic, Lutheran Services of Florida; Daimy Bueno, Miami, Florida; Ali Aden, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota; Chris Phan, Garden Grove, CA; Asmeen Hamkar, Phoenix, AZ; and Albert Yousif, owner of A2Z Facility Maintenance, Troy, MI.
Image credit: Diliff