August 31, 2010

Dear world of lovely blog readers,

We all knew that one day this time would come… and here we are. On my penultimate day of work in the Lutheran Center I find myself experiencing a mix of emotion. I am sad to leave the beautiful people and relationships that have become so near to my heart in these past twelve months. I am simultaneously excited to begin a new journey, and embark on a new chapter in the wild and intricate story that I get to call life.

As I prepare for my departure from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the city of Baltimore, and the United States for a little while, I reflect on the incredible opportunity I have been given. This past year I have gotten to spend time entering into space with people while sharing and listening stories. I have visited homes, offices, churches, coffee shops, and convention centers; I have met migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, social workers, church members, ESL volunteers, congress people, and senators. I have raised my voice for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and have sat listening as many of my new friends have allowed me to interview them with a video camera.

Through this past year I have experienced welcome in radical ways, and have been invited  into welcome by some absolutely beautiful souls.

It is with humility and reverence that I reflect on this past year, and think of the many brilliant and vibrant people who I have met.

As the saying once again holds true, it is indeed the case that all good things must come to an end, and my friends, it looks like this will be the end of my blogging times with you. However, an exciting new endeavor for this blog will be the new Mennonite Volunteer that you will get to meet!

Melissa Gingerich from Goshen, Indiana has come to spend a year of service with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. I will let her introduce herself to you a little more thoroughly, but, I urge you to continue reading as Melissa discovers and defines welcome for herself as a newcomer to the city of Baltimore.

Without further ado, I bid you farewell, and thank you dearly for walking this journey with me.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver


More of The Exhibit!

August 30, 2010

“Music is the universal language of mankind.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Outre-Met;Together with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, former refugee from Bhutan, Chandra Bajgai, and local Baltimore musician Caleb Stine get together for a jam session in the living room at Reservoir Hill House of Peace. Together, through participation in the art of music, culture is shared and boundaries are broken. Pictured beginning top left and moving clockwise: Chandra, a former refugee from Bhutan gets together with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Caleb Stine, local Baltimore musician to play music together; A crowd at Reservoir Hill House of Peace enjoying the music as Chandra and his friend’s play with Caleb; Local Baltimore musician Caleb Stine; Caleb Stine’s guitar; Chandra playing guitar; Caleb Stine.

(Left) U Gawsita and (right) U Agga stand in their monastery, headquarters to the All Burma Monk Alliance (ABMA) in Utica, New York. As leaders involved in a famous movement of peaceful protests, The Saffron Revolution (named “Saffron” after the color of their robes), U Gawsita and U Agga are strong advocates for democracy, human rights, and social justice. While living in Burma, as military soldiers began raiding their monasteries both U Gawsita and U Agga fled to the Burma-Thailand border in search of safety. After being granted refugee status by the United Nations High Comissioner for Refugees, both monks were resettled by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to Utica, New York where they now live with three other monks. When asked about the biggest differences between Burma and the United States U Agga answered, “To live in Burma means we cannot speak about democracy or human rights or justice or peace freely like we can here.” He continued, “After we arrived here we can speak openly about our organization (ABMA) and human rights.”

Lutheran Church of our Savior (LCOS) in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware is home to one of the largest English as a Second Language (ESL) programs in the state. As a recipient of a Good Samaritan grant through LIRS and Wheat Ridge Ministries, LCOS was funded to begin this ESL ministry in 2001. Read more about this ministry in the May 2010 edition of the LIRS eNewsletter: Words of Welcome. (Left): ESL advanced student Viviana poses after an interview. Viviana has been taking ESL classes for the past 5 years and hopes to go to college and someday work in a hospital. (Right): Volunter mentors in the kitchen prepare food for ESL students.

After a much anticipated wait, I am excited to show you all my exhibit! After getting the chance to compile some of my favorite photographs and stories from this year, I created wooden canvases to help and display each collection of photos. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service threw an incredible party for the exhibit opening. Friends, family, and valued co-workers all had a chance to view the photography, and local Baltimore musician Caleb Stine stopped by for a visit and a few songs!

Without further ado, I am excited to show you all the exhibit, which, will be available very soon on the LIRS website. Something VERY cool abotu this exhibit is that it gets to travel, so if your congregation, school, or place of work would like to host this art, give a shout out to outreach@lirs.org and let us know!

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service stands boldly with migrants and refugees, speaking out as strong advocates for fair and human treatment of all persons. Join LIRS as we dialouge with lawmakers by taking action and speaking out on behalf of migrants and refugees living in the Unitred States!  As pictured beginning top left and moving clockwise: Rep. Luis Gutierrez  (IL-4) sponsor of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIRASAP) of 20009, meets with ELCA bishops; Bishop Wayne miller, Metro Chicago Synod, ELCA; LIRS meets with Senator Thune’s (R-SD) staff while participating in a Refugee Council USA Advocacy Day; Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO); William Chol, former refugee from Sudan lobbying on Capitol Hill; Bishop Wayne Miller, Metro Chicago Synod, ELCA with Bishop Gerald L. Masholt, Central State Synod, ELCA.

My very first visit “In Search of Welcome” was with Vung Lam Man and her beautiful children. As former refugees from Burma, Vung Lam Man and her family arrived to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 2009 where they were greeted by LIRS affiliate, Lutheran Children and Family Services of Pennsylvania. As I went to their home to meet and interview Vung Lam Man about her experience in coming to the United States, I felt incredibly excited. Although we did not speak the same language, through the honesty of hospitality a joyful time was made possible. As we interacted, a moment of pure organic laughter broke out. Suddenly the fact that there was a language barrier had been smashed by laughter and we shared a moment of genuine human connection. After the interview portion of my visit had ended, and written translation was be transcribed, I went to play outside with the kids. From this expereince came some of my favorite memories and best photographs of the year! (Pictured beginning top left and moving clockwise): (Left to right) Vung Sian Cing, Niang Deih Lian, and Thang Suan Pau jump with excitement (and energy!) for the camera; Niang Deih Lian, Vung Sian Cing and Thang Suan Pau sit on their front stoop in Lacaster, Pennsylvania; Niang Deih Lian gives a big smile for the camera; Thang Suan Pau; Niang Deih Lian.

Nicknamed in 2005 “The Town That Loves Refugees” by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Utica, New York is home to former refugees from Bosnia, Dzeusad and Amoid Dizdareuic. After coming to the United States in 1997 both Dzeusad and Amoid were greeted with a number of challenges. While the transition was difficult and the langauge barrier was tough at first, Dzeusad expresses the welcome that he felt, simply through the act of receiving a smile from a stranger. After only 5 years of living in the United States the Dizdareuic family owns and operates both a corner market as well as the hair salon next door. Dzeusad reminds us that “The U.S. is a land of opportunity… you can succeed, but you can also fall down…you have to work hard.” 

Dina Lukudu, a former refugee from Southern Sudan poses with her three children on her back porch in Towson, MD. After meeting her husband while studying in Egypt, Dina and her family came to the United States, escaping the war-torn conditions of Southern Sudan. While interviewing Dina as our featured mother in the 2010 LIRS Mother’s Day video, she reflected enthusiastically on her initial excitement to come to the United States. While she was nervous, especially for her children, she has found friends, family, and work here in the states. (Pictured top to bottom): Diko (9 years old); Emmanuel (11 years old); (Left to Right) Diko, Bande (16 months old), Dina, Emmanuel.