We moved our office this past week. It was only 15 blocks, and we had a lot of help. But a lot can accumulate in an office building that has been there since 1975. And those cupboards are remarkably deep. We recycled a lot, we threw out a lot, but still, we moved a lot. And now, in our new location (temporary, until we build the Synod House), we are surrounded by boxes, wondering where the post-it notes are, and when we will get phone service. We are grateful to the people of New Hope Lutheran Church who welcomed us into their space, put flowers in our offices, and gave us cake the day we moved. Still, we are feeling dislocated.
But our dislocation is nothing compared with the more than 60 million people across the globe who are refugees—the greatest number since World War II. Most are refugees because of war, famine, natural disasters, political oppression, racial or tribal or religious prejudice. Most flee for their lives. Too many lose their lives in the process. Refugee camps are a stop gap measure, not a permanent solution.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is a pan-Lutheran agency that started resettling Lutheran refugees after World War II. As a child, I can remember the Latvian woman who came to live with my cousins. She was one of the many who came to the United States from Eastern Europe. LIRS has broadened its scope over the years, responding to changing patterns of refugees across the globe. Many of us remember the Southeast Asian refugees after the Vietnam War, the Russian refugees after the Cold War. And now there are Central American children fleeing from death squads and Syrians escaping a brutal civil war.
LIRS is a reminder to all of us that refugees are our business, and that as Christians we cannot simply look away. LIRS joins with other agencies to advocate for refugees in Washington DC and in states. LIRS actively resettles refugees, accompanies people to court hearings, and works with government and private agencies to find ways to welcome new neighbors. The ELCA is an active partner with LIRS. In 1998, the ELCA Church Council adopted a Social Message on Immigration, and in 2009, the Churchwide Assembly adopted a resolution on reform of US Immigration policy. LIRS provides resources to congregations who want to learn more about immigration and refugees. Go to www.lirs.org for educational materials to use in your congregation. This week was World Refugee Day, but you can observe it any time.
Montana and Wyoming do not experience the volume of refugees that some other places face. But that is no reason for us to turn our backs on the world’s neediest people. Scripture is full of admonitions to care for the poor and the stranger, the alien in our midst. Remember, we follow Jesus, who started his life as a refugee.
Moving our office has shaken us up a bit—mostly in a good way. I have rediscovered some things I had forgotten about, and I’ve let go of some things that I don’t really need anymore. And this experience of minor dislocation is a good reminder to me that the God who led the Israelites out of Egypt was not a comfortable God, not a stationary God, but a God on the move.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
New address: 3125 5th Ave. S., Great Falls, MT 59401
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA