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LIRS: Called to be the face of welcome

While welcome of the stranger is a core value of the community of the faithful throughout the Bible, according to Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), it isn’t always easy to offer. In addition to providing hospitality to people who are in a strange land, refugee resettlement can often mean engaging in difficult conversations, even with your neighbor.
Nearly to the day on her first anniversary as the CEO of LIRS, Hartke told Metro Lutheran that, while she is energized to be working with remarkable people, “I have been surprised to see how deep the fear [of the refugee] is in many communities.”

Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services

Today, LIRS is actively involved in setting a much more diverse table.

Still, she finds many reasons to be hopeful.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is a cooperative ministry of three national Lutheran bodies — the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church. “These churches broadly, from the top leadership down, recognize the biblical call to extend hospitality,” she said. “They are willing to engage in public action, as well as prayer and theological teaching on both refugees and migrants.”
LIRS began 72 years ago as a Lutheran effort to relocate Lutherans emigrating to this country. Today, LIRS is actively involved in setting a much more diverse table. For some, the transition of groups being resettled may affect the passion for being involved.
Still, Hartke is heartened by the level of engagement by individuals and congregations when vulnerable people are in need. “In these times, the fact that Lutherans speak powerfully, eloquently, and without compromise about their calling to stand for the welcome of newcomers is absolutely essential.”

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