Lutherans have been known for the long welcome. We continue to welcome people at our doors long after the masses have grown tired and gone home.
Our work to welcome refugees is no different. Lutheran Community Services Northwest (LCSNW) proudly participates in the long welcome. We partner with individuals, families and communities across Washington, Oregon and Idaho in the pursuit of health, justice and hope. More simply, we help all types of people live better lives.
We continue our work long after the press and politicians no longer talk about it. Two years ago, we were there when a devastating mudslide hit Oso. The news crews are a distant memory, but we’re still there helping families recover from the disaster.
We’ve just started welcoming refugees to the South Sound. We plan to be in it for the long haul, or the long welcome.
The South Sound is a welcoming community by nature. This was made clear to us when with the support of the community and a local family foundation, LCSNW expanded our refugee placement program from the greater Portland area into Tacoma to facilitate refugee placement into Pierce County.
We are not new to refugee work. Since the 1970s, LCSNW has welcomed more than 35,000 refugees to the Northwest. We work with them by respecting their cultures while welcoming them and helping them adapt to their new home.
Many people throughout Pierce County have opened their arms and hearts to refugees. We have people who are sponsoring refugee families, while churches and local nonprofits are collecting basic-need items for them. As a Pacific Lutheran University graduate and Pierce County resident since 1985, I am enormously proud of the welcoming spirit of my fellow South Sound community members.
In the last year, fear and division have gripped our nation. At least 31 governors have said Syrian refugees are not welcome in their states. Thankfully, Gov. Jay Inslee is not one of them.
We recognize welcoming refugees is a complex issue that we take seriously. It isn’t just a political issue, it’s about people, and how we respond to need. It’s also about our economy. Adding immigrants and refugees has a positive impact on the local economy and our social well-being. And it’s about our safety; refugees are the most vetted group of people who enter the U.S.
We know the issues. And with our public safety, economy and politics in mind, we choose to help the many men, women and children who can never go “home.”
We have seen families come with nothing but the clothes on their backs. We have helped them as moms and dads have become doctors, lawyers and vice presidents of technology companies. Their children have become students of our public schools and universities.
These families are grateful for the opportunities that they have here. They are grateful that they are no longer in danger and that they can finally feel safe and build a life.
Along with our community partners, we help refugees build a new, more promising life in Pierce County. It has been our privilege to see them come from all over the world to start a new life. This process is a struggle, but one we are familiar with and are very good at helping them navigate.
At LCSNW, we are expecting to welcome and resettle 1,300 refugees in Washington and Oregon this year, which will include an estimated 30 Syrian refugee families. We project that 360 refugees will resettle in the South Sound, roughly half of those in Pierce County. We will continue to welcome Christians, Muslims and refugees of all faiths, just as we always have.
Long after this issue fades from the news and political debates have died down, we will still be there welcoming refugees with our many partners to their new home. We are proud to help them in the struggle to find their new normal in a country that is foreign to them. We will always be here, welcoming.
If you would like to help, please email Program Director of Refugee Resettlement John Forseth at firstname.lastname@example.org or donate at www.lcsnw.org.
David Duea of Gig Harbor is president and CEO of Lutheran Community Services Northwest. He can be reached at email@example.com.