Press Contact: Stacy Martin, Vice President for Mission Advancement
Deffenbaugh to Resign as Head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
BALTIMORE, April 15, 2009—Ralston H. Deffenbaugh, Jr., president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) since 1991, has announced his resignation effective September 1, 2009. Deffenbaugh stated that at this stage in the life of LIRS, he believes that the organization needs new gifts of leadership. “As LIRS president I have always understood myself as standing on the able, solid shoulders of all those who have gone before me. I believe that my gifts have been well used in my tenure at LIRS, that the agency has grown to a degree that no one could have imagined 18 years ago, and that it is now time for a new kind of imagination to light the way. I’ve long been influenced by the adage that our calling is the intersection between our joy and the world’s need. For me and for LIRS, that intersection has shifted.”
Deffenbaugh is the longest-serving head of LIRS since its founding in 1939. Under Deffenbaugh’s leadership, LIRS has tripled in program size and staff number with a $25 million annual budget and more than 100 staff members. Since 1991, LIRS and its partners have resettled more than 100,000 refugees, many from Africa (including the so-called “Lost Boys” from Sudan), Burma and Bhutan, who, without LIRS’s advocacy, may not have been granted U.S. refugee status. While under Deffenbaugh’s leadership, LIRS revived the international system of resettlement and care for unaccompanied refugee children through direct collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
LIRS has also become a leader in seeking a more humane immigration enforcement system under Deffenbaugh’s leadership, promoting an end to the imprisonment of vulnerable migrants-many of whom are children, families, asylum seekers and victims of torture-who pose no threat to themselves or others. In America’s contentious debate over immigration reform, Deffenbaugh has led LIRS to become a distinguished moral voice for its Lutheran partners and beyond. Deffenbaugh was instrumental in forming the Refugee Council USA and served as its first chairperson from 2000 to 2001.
Of Deffenbaugh’s leadership at LIRS, Board Chairperson Elaine Richter Bryant noted, “Ralie’s visionary leadership has been the catalyst for the consistent 18-year growth and expansion of Lutheran services to immigrants and refugees. Ralie has surrounded himself with excellent staff, gaining national recognition for LIRS as the ‘moral compass’ in this decade-long struggle for immigration reform. The board will appropriately recognize these achievements. At the same time the board has activated our transition policies and procedures to assure a seamless continuation of the LIRS mission to ‘welcome the stranger bringing new hope and new life.'”
The Rev. Anita Varsbergs Paza, former LIRS board member and acting president of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one of LIRS’s three corporate church bodies, stated upon word of Deffenbaugh’s resignation, “As president of LIRS, Ralie Deffenbaugh exemplified faith in action, humbly serving the uprooted and most vulnerable, welcoming the stranger with an amazing capacity for compassion, witnessing to the darkest corners of our world that God’s intention is hope and new life for all.”
“It is with a profound mixture of sadness and joy that I express my deepest appreciation to Ralie Deffenbaugh for his fine and faithful service as president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service,” stated Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. “The sadness stems from no longer being able to observe firsthand his obvious and unending love for immigrant people, many of whom seek the basic necessities of life and freedoms available in the United States. The joy comes from recalling Ralie’s contributions to many, many refugee people who now live lives of safety, security and freedom in this wonderful country.”
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, stated, “The sustained commitment of Lutherans in the United States to resettle refugees is testimony to the leadership of Ralie Deffenbaugh. He has combined the skills of an attorney who understands complex immigration law with the compassionate heart of a person of faith who seeks to serve the neighbor. He has continued to champion fair and just immigration reform and remind Lutherans, most of whom are the descendants of a once-immigrant people, that we are called to welcome the new immigrants in our land.”
Considering the future of LIRS, Deffenbaugh offered, “I remain passionately committed to the mission of LIRS and look forward to continuing to be a strong supporter of LIRS through my financial support, my advocacy and my prayers. There is so much good work to be done. So many voices of vulnerable people that still need to be brought to the table. LIRS’s essential role in that good work will not diminish. I look forward to seeing how LIRS will continue to bring new hope and new life in ever more creative and indispensable ways. LIRS will remain a constant support for uprooted people and for the communities that welcome them.”
Deffenbaugh’s future plans are still taking shape, he said. “What I will do next remains to be seen. I have embraced a possibility, an unknown, and am intrigued by the journeys ahead-both for myself and for LIRS.”
The LIRS board of directors has established a transition committee.
LIRS is a cooperative agency of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Representatives of these church bodies govern the agency on a 15-member board of directors.
Since 1939 LIRS has created welcoming communities for America’s newcomers. It is one of the nation’s leading agencies serving refugees and immigrants. The organization resettles refugees, protects unaccompanied children, advocates for just treatment of asylum seekers, seeks alternatives to immigration detention and stands for unity for families fractured by unfair laws.