Written by Betty Lohr, former LSC board member and current volunteer
The mission statement for Lutheran Services Carolinas is “Empowered by Christ, we walk together with all we serve.” This mission has no clearer example than that of welcoming refugees and immigrants into our communities.
When LSC opened a New Americans Program office in Asheville, NC, in 2019, it began welcoming refugee families in new parts of the state. As an advocate for immigrants, I had been anxiously awaiting the time we in the Hickory area could assemble a Circle of Welcome for a family that needed safety, friendship, and a new life. We got that opportunity on April 21, 2022, when LSC worked with members of our community to resettle an Afghan family of six to Hickory.
The Hickory Circle of Welcome has been an interfaith effort drawing participation/involvement from members of the Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, Jewish, and Lutheran communities. The family has also benefitted from the generosity of Lutheran congregations across Catawba County and around the state. A gift from The Augsburg Lutheran Church’s Hein Fund in Winston-Salem provided funding for medical fees and halal meat.
Sponsoring this family has created many opportunities for shared learning and growth. For example, a picnic celebrating World Refugee Day allowed the family to meet other members of the community, some of whom were Syrian and Pakistani immigrants. The family has invited Circle members to expand their own sense of cultural diversity in Catawba County. We have learned more about the Muslim community and celebrated holidays not often recognized in this region.
The Circle has also delighted in the resilience and courage of children. They bravely boarded a school bus in April to attend a new school with a new language surrounded by new people. After dropping the three children off for their first day of school, the father commented, “In Afghanistan, no schools. In America, schools for all my babies.” The pride he has for their accomplishments is evident.
Walking with the mother through her pregnancy and delivery in June became a true drama of joy and anticipation. The new baby was born an American citizen with all the potential and possibilities represented therein.
Seeing our city through the eyes of this family has helped Circle members gain a sense of how we often take our resources for granted. Even grocery shopping with the children has become a new enlightened experience.
One highlight with this amazing family was the trip to Alexandria, Virginia for their asylum hearings. Pisgah Legal Services made this important work much more manageable. While in Washington, D. C., we had time to walk along the National Mall and the Washington Monument. There is no better place to underscore how important this journey toward safety and security is for those who have left all that they have known and all that is familiar in the pursuit of peace.
Walking together with this family has given Circle members a deeper appreciation for what refugees and immigrants experience when pursuing a life of stability and dignity. Their determination and tenacity in the face of sometimes overwhelming odds spark hope in us all. The Hickory Circle of Welcome is fortunate to walk together on this journey with a family whose dreams of freedom are being fulfilled.