Inside LIRS is a new series celebrating the many wonderful people working behind the scenes at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. First up is Kristin Witte, the new Director of Outreach.
What inspired you to work in the immigrant and refugee space?
The truth is, I have a five-year-old daughter and I know that 20 years from now, she’s going to turn to me and say, ‘So Mama, when they had kids in cages and people were in pain and people were being kept from a better life, what did you do?’ I’m going to be asked to explain how I used my gifts to serve the most vulnerable.
I come at all the work I do based on my faith. And the primary answers to the questions that are laid out in the Sermon on the Mount—when I was hungry, when I was thirsty, when I was alone, when I was a stranger, when I was naked, when I was imprisoned—that is how we will be judged whether or not we lived a good life according to Christ. I want to model that for my daughter, and I want to give my life in service to those who answer the questions.
I was coordinating U.S. response for a global migration initiative [at my previous job] and realized that I fell in love with the mission of working with migrants and refugees. Working on a global migration campaign transformed my heart. I felt called to invest my gifts and talents to serve those who I believe society is casting out, so I stepped into the gap that I saw in an attempt to be a good servant.
When someday Kyra turns to me and says, ‘Mama, you got trained to do that. You have the education to do that. Where were you?’ I need to say ‘I stood there. I did it with everything I had.’ That’s why I do what I do.
What is Outreach at LIRS? How does it allow you to fulfill that calling?
The Outreach department is a component of LIRS’ engagement with Lutheran and other constituents in the United States, giving them practical ways to engage with the mission and message. Our responsibility is to integrate faith, particularly Lutheran faith, into the work and the resources of LIRS and provide representation and opportunities for deepening partnerships with organizations, congregations, and individuals.
In the upcoming year, we’ll be building three national programs highlighting stories, cultural experiences, advocacy actions, and financial opportunities for engagement. As disciples of Christ, we are expected to speak and to act against the injustices that we see. We can’t lay dormant. In Scripture, the book of Revelation tells us “Because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” That’s not subtle. Scripture says that we are expected to live a life of passion and we are expected to say challenging things to speak the truth in love. We are called to prophesy. We are called to stand for the dignity of people. When that dignity is challenged, we must stand in solidarity. For us to do that, sometimes we have to be a voice that other people aren’t comfortable listening to–because Christ didn’t make people comfortable. We have to be a voice that creates the kind of discomfort that Christ did.
That voice is often misunderstood. It’s often sidelined. People try to disregard it. But we, as an organization grounded in mission and grounded in Gospel, are the people who should be rising and speaking prophetic voice. We believe that each human being has a divine spark and needs to be respected for that spark. And we will not let policies, people, or organizations lessen the human dignity that is intrinsic to every migrant and refugee–as it is intrinsic to every human being.
Have you enjoyed working at LIRS thus far?
The thing I like best about LIRS is that the organization is true to its mission. I don’t know many organizations where people know they’re coming to work because they have dedicated themselves to serving a mission and they do it with their whole heart, their whole mind, and their whole soul. And you can feel that in the way that we relate to one another, in the way that we care for each other, in the way that we make each other laugh, and in the incredible work that gets done.[LIRS employees] are truly remarkable people that are doing work against so many odds, and yet they find hope. I am so grateful that Christ called me to this place.