A Backpack Drive to Celebrate Refugee Sunday

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This year, LIRS reached out to Lutheran congregations across the country, asking them to set aside a Sunday during the year, a Refugee Sunday, to celebrate the courageous journeys of refugees and the tremendous gifts they bring to our communities.

A sign wishing for safe travels for families released from detention.
A young man holds a sign that says “Good luck and safe travels.” Credit: Ronald Richter

To support this initiative, LIRS worked with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (LELCA) to develop a Refugee Sunday Kit to help participating churches. The materials help congregations hold successful, inspiring events that educate their members about the needs of migrants and refugees.

Memorial Drive Lutheran Church in Houston, TX has a history of social justice activism. The church has been engaged in service to migrants impacted by detention in their community through their Backpack Ministry. They compile backpacks with donated supplies to give to recently released migrants as they start their journey outside the walls of a detention center. In order to continue this important work, Memorial Drive Lutheran Church celebrated Refugee Sunday and dedicated their event to aiding and learning about migrants.

The filled and collected backpacks ready to be blessed and given to families released from detention centers.
The filled and collected backpacks ready to be blessed and given to families released from detention centers. Credit: Ronald Richter

In today’s blog post, Ronald Richter describes his church’s dedication to the rights of migrants and refugees and how his congregation worked together to hold a successful Refugee Sunday.

Memorial Drive Lutheran Church (MDLC) applied for a grant from Lutheran World Hunger to support women and children being released from detention facilities. After the grant was filed, a visit to Interfaith Welcome Coalition of San Antonio (IWC) revealed that the number of people released had increased and there was no constant committed supply of backpacks. Funding was needed now to address the situation. Our church decided to provide 50 backpacks per month, which would be offset by fundraising participation from the greater Houston community.

When we saw the request by LIRS to hold Refugee Sunday, we presented a message that covered the history of our church as advocates for immigrants and the urgent need to support women and children being released from detention centers. Our presentation focused on the process of applying for political asylum in the United States. We also described the conditions in the detention centers and the need for the congregations help in providing backpacks for the women and children released from detention.

Pastor Ron blesses the backpacks that will be given to families recently released from immigration detention.

To date, MDLC has collected $2,300 and has held three events with adults and children from the church to prepare 50 backpacks. Also, they were included in the blessing of the backpacks before being delivered to Interfaith Welcome Coalition of San Antonio last week. We have also conducted outreach to the community and have three Girl Scouts troops, a community college, and two ELCA churches in Houston who are participating in our backpack drive.

We are committed to advocating for fair treatment of women and children in detention centers that provide safe conditions and standards. We also believe that the legal process needs to be streamlined so that the migrants are not held for many months on end. Our work is not done and we are asking for you to get involved. For more information visit Interfaith Welcome Coalition.

Whether your church is already involved in migrant and refugee issues, or know little about the plights of migrants and refugees you can be involved in Refugee Sunday. For more information on Refugee Sunday and to access the Refugee Sunday kit visit www.refugeesunday.lirs.org or email refugeesunday@lirs.org.

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