Coming in second place in numbers of refugees resettled — and for the second year in a row — is something that Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is proud about. Especially when that ranking places the interchurch organization right after the United States, which projected 90,000 for 1999.
"LIRS has resettled more refugees in 1999 than any [other] country," said Ralston Deffenbaugh Jr., LIRS director, announcing the total of 13,300, up more than 1,500 from 1998.
And Fargo, N.D., claims No. 1 status in welcoming LIRS refugees. A 20-year high of 632 people were resettled there through the Lutheran Social Services Center for New Americans by October.
Director Barry Nelson says the influx of more than 100 Kosovars, about 30 family groups, fleeing the war in their homeland made last spring "a most astounding time."
The crisis re-energized congregations who individually or in ecumenical partnerships sponsored 23 of the families. Bosnians, Somalians and Sudanese made up the next largest groups for whom LSS found new homes in North Dakota.
"Our experiences brought the world into perspective," mused Nelson whose congregation, Maple Sheyenne Lutheran in Harwood, N.D., sponsored a Kosovar family through the ecumenical coalition in West Fargo.
"Many people approached [sponsoring a family] tentatively, as a duty or Christian obligation," Nelson said. "But as they got to know the refugees as people, they were surprised by grace."
© 2015 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers