By Megan K. Mertz
Representatives from 38 organizations that work with immigrants and refugees gathered in Baltimore Feb. 24-26 for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service’s (LIRS) L3 Conference.
According to Tara Mulder, director of LIRS’ Marketing and Communications, L3 — which stands for “learning, leveraging and leading” — was the first time members of LIRS’ three service networks have come together for discussion
She said the organization has three distinct service networks — for work with refugees, migrants impacted by detention and unaccompanied children — as well as a network of congregations involved in this work around the country.
“Together we can accomplish more than any one of our organizations can by themselves,” she said, noting LIRS’ focus on continuing to promote collaborative action among its partners in the future.
During the conference, participants from all of these networks came together to discuss ways to help immigrants become connected to the community, a long-term process LIRS calls “the long welcome.” They also discussed issues such as church engagement, migrant and refugee leadership, and messaging.
“As congregations become involved in providing the immigrant a ‘long welcome’ that results in the development of these lasting relationships, it is just a short journey, under the Spirit’s leading, to opportunities to share the Gospel,” said the Rev. Dr. Carlos Hernandez, director of LCMS Church and Community Engagement, who attended the conference.
The Rev. Yared Halche, pastor of St. Augustine Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Ind., and a missionary at-large for the LCMS Indiana District, also attended the conference. As a former immigrant and the pastor of an LCMS church that has members from 17 countries, Halche says this work is close to his heart.
“What I like about the meeting was the intentionality from LIRS leadership to utilize our immigrant church leaders in integration,” he said. “This is a good example of utilizing God’s people in a way that would be very productive.”
Mulder indicated that LIRS plans to hold similar gatherings in the future.
“This year LIRS celebrates our 75th anniversary and recalls the sense of urgency Lutheran congregations felt to care for refugees as Europe was engulfed by the violence of WWII,” Linda Hartke, president and CEO of LIRS, wrote to Reporter via email. “With a shared sense of opportunity and promise today, our service and church partners have identified the renewed engagement of local congregations as absolutely essential to helping migrants and refugees thrive and communities fulfill their role as places of welcome to newcomers.”
Megan K. Mertz is a staff writer with LCMS Communications.