Lutheran Services Carolina staff members and clients rely on faith to guide them through the difficulty of refugee resettlements.
By Aneesa Conine-Nakano, Clarke Central HS (Athens, Georgia)
John 10:10: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This is the Lutheran Services Carolinas (LSC) vision statement, stated on their official website. LSC, among other services, aids immigrants and refugees through the resettlement process regardless of their religious or cultural differences.
¨My faith is completely instrumental in what I do,” Lindsey LeDuc, the LSC area manager, said. “I was raised in the Christian faith and am a firm believer in Jesus and that motivates me to keep going and to do this work that is not easy, it’s not always rewarding, but I do feel like it is something that the Lord has called me to do.”
Staff members and volunteers meet refugees and immigrants as soon as they come to the United States, and help them utilize services in the area.
“We can work with clients for up to five years, and we basically work with them from the time they arrive at the airport, so we actually go to the airport to pick families up, set up housing, help them access services and find employment and of course, the ultimate goal of the program is sufficiency,¨
Faith plays a significant role in lives of both the staff and refugees, though their religions often differ. LSC employment coordinator Lindsay Seymour is driven by her faith, but respects all of her clients’ beliefs.
“I don’t hide the fact that I’m a Christian. I am open about that, but I definitely don’t do any preaching either. I don’t proselytize my clients. I accept them for whoever they are, wherever they’re from, whatever religion they practice,” Seymour said.
LSC Education Coordinator Laurann Gallitto, on the other hand, does not practice a particular religion, but instead, is driven by the human interaction she gets from her work.
“I am exposed to, not just Christian religion, but also the other faiths that our clients practice, and so actually a few days ago, I went to a mosque,” Gallitto said. “I’ve always been very interested in different faiths but don’t practice myself. I think like sort of the common human bond, that doesn’t necessarily derive from my religion or my faith, is that we’re all here for a very short period of time, and my goal is to help people and make their lives better and hopefully leave the world a little bit better than the way it was when I found it.”
LeDuc says that almost all of the refugees LDC has served have identified with a religion, ranging from Islam to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“It doesn’t matter what they believe, we respect their religion and they are allowed to practice here. That’s a huge education point: they are allowed to practice here, they have freedom of religion. And a lot of them have been religiously persecuted. They were a minority in their country — not always, but some of them are, so that’s why they had to flee, because they were not able to practice their religion and being forced to practice another,” LeDuc said.
Myat Htwe, a resettled refugee from Burma, said she and her family, who practice Buddhism, relied on their religion through the uncertainty of their journey to the United States.
“We were in Philippines. It was stateless. It was very depressing for us, so all the time, we prayed to our God everyday, you know, and I hoped that God would protect us,” Htwe said. “I was helping people. I showed my love. I cared (for) them, and then I prayed that, you know, every time I met with people, I honestly helped them.”
Htwe now works as a case manager for the LSC to continue helping people who are going through a similar transition she went through. LeDuc believes, across religions, the theme of generosity inspires the LDC workers to help.
“For me, I think our life should be a sacrifice, so we should sacrifice some of our own blessings to help other people. For me, service is huge. Reaching out to people and welcoming the stranger in our midst. If you’ve read scripture or the Bible, that’s a huge theme,” LeDuc said. “It’s a theme of Christianity: reaching out to people and showing them love and compassion.”