Sunday, March 5, 2017

Refugee Services

A friend pointed out to me last week that our Facebook page had been heavily filled with refugee services for the last couple weeks, and what was up with that. That is true and it is as it should be. LSC and I have posted a number of pictures of nursing home visits and other services, but refugees are the current hot topic.

LSC's refugee services is a relatively small program, about $2.5 million in our budget of about $130 million. But size doesn't matter when we stand up for what's right. There's a song about needing to stand up for something or you'll fall for anything.

Much like a big sister standing up for her little brother, LSC stands for and stands up for the people we serve--in every program. Today it's refugees, tomorrow it will be nursing home residents or foster children.

Refugee services has become a political issue; facts are irrelevant to red meat politics. That's a sad state of affairs, but one we have to address with steadfastness and facts. The truth is LSC has been resettling refugees in the Carolinas since 1979. We have resettled people from many different religions and from all parts of the world. And with no issues! Refugees coming to the United States are already "extreme vetted," including biometric screening, interrogation-style interviews with trained professionals, and years of waiting in refugee camps. That is extreme!

Much of the problem is education. Our refugees get lumped in with the refugee flood into Europe, which is the exact opposite: no vetting, no identification, just people walking right in to European countries. People also don't understand the concept of undocumented immigrants, often called illegal immigrants as compared to refugees. Again, they are sneaking in or overstaying visas. Refugees are officially invited in by the United States government after "extreme vetting," and after approval by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

LSC's refugee services will probably shrink for the next few years from a paltry 460 to an even smaller probably 250. The U.S. has decided to reduce the number of refugees admitted to the US from 110,000 to 50,000. LSC will continue to serve, and eventually politics will move on to other issues. In my opinion, the US should be resettling at least 200,000 refugees each year to participate as a humanitarian leader in the world. US leadership is needed now more that ever, as the world is in its largest crisis of displaced people in recorded history: 65 million displaced people, among them includes $21 million refugees worldwide.

Facts matter. LSC will continue to do this important work. Today refugees are front and center, tomorrow it will be another group of people. But always, LSC will fulfill its mission: Empowered by Christ, we walk together with all we serve!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Columbia, SC

Below is a letter I just mailed to Pastor John Trump and the saints at St. Andrew's Lutheran, Columbia, SC. Cheryl and I spent most of Sunday, 9-11-16, with them. Wonderful visit and wonderful partnership.

September 13, 2016

St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church
1416 Broad River Rd.
Columbia, SC 29210-7623

Dear Pastor John and the St. Andrew’s Family:

Thank you for allowing me to be with you on September 11, 2016 at both services, the Sunday School hour, the after-church meal, and the tour of Welcome House. The Burmese youth choir was a beautiful addition! And thank you for the work we do together. I continue to bask in our Sunday fellowship and decided to reiterate the points I tried to make during my brief remarks to the congregation.

Thank you for the partnership between the South Carolina Synod and Lutheran Services Carolinas! That partnership allows us to serve in so many ways, from veterans to foster care, to people with developmental disabilities, to refugees. And no congregation in the Carolinas has a closer connection to Lutheran Services Carolinas than St. Andrew’s.

The Catholic Church just made one of my personal heroes, Mother Teresa, a saint. I have always taken to heart her words, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Few saints do more than the saints here at St. Andrews. Thank you again for your partnership and ministry through Welcome House and beyond!

We are the church together! Separately, we are so thin; together we are so strong! Your chocolate – the old parsonage, and our peanut butter – the refugee services program, make a great partnership. Serving and partnering is never easy. Wear and tear, constant turnover, cultural differences, cooking and bathroom issues – some days I’m sure you throw up your hands and lament, “No good deed goes unpunished!” But we are the church together! We overcome the obstacles and stand together to welcome people who are escaping death and death threats and persecution and starvation.

Lutheran Services Carolinas has resettled over 14,000 refugees since 1979 from every corner of the world and from many religions of the world. And without incident. We will continue to be the hands of Christ, to work with and for you in this imperfect world.

Thank you for your time Sunday and for God’s richest blessings on your ministry here at St. Andrew’s every day!

Yours in Christ,

Ted W. Goins, Jr.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Lutheran Services Carolinas and Grace Lutheran, Hendersonville, NC

Grace Lutheran celebrated their 100th anniversary on 9-4-16. They invited fellow church organizations to share connections. When I started thinking about it, there were so many connections. We are the Church together! My letter to Grace:

Grace Lutheran Church
1245 6th Ave. W
Hendersonville, NC 28739-3311

Dear Friends:

Congratulations and God’s richest blessings as you celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of Grace Lutheran Church. Grace has meant a great deal to Lutheran Services Carolinas, and to me personally.

Crescent View, now known as Trinity View, is a ministry of Lutheran Services Carolinas. Trinity View opened in 1991 to serve seniors in western North Carolina. Trinity View fulfills its mission as a faith-based, small, affordable, rental community.

Grace Lutheran Church has been instrumental in Trinity View’s founding and success. Your pastors and the congregation have been developers, supporters, volunteers, friends, employees, donors, board members, and always brothers and sisters in Christ. Grace and Trinity View have been an example of all of us being the church together! We are especially grateful that Grace and Pastor Greg & Brenda shared LSC teammate Elliott Williams with us.

Probably the most impactful connection between Grace Lutheran and Lutheran Services Carolinas is The Rev. Doctor Jefferson Norris, grandfather of Brenda Williams and great grandfather of Elliott. Dr. Norris, a former pastor at Grace, was a founder of Lutheran Services Carolinas, leaving Grace to become the first Executive Director of The Lutheran Home in Hickory, LSC’s first ministry. His legacy has grown into a $130 million ministry that serves the Carolinas through adoptions, foster care, refugee services, services for those with developmental disabilities, nursing homes, retirement centers, and much more.

Again, congratulations and blessings on your one hundredth anniversary, on our twenty-fifth anniversary together, and on the next generation of collaboration and mutual support. And on a personal note, Cheryl and I were married at Grace on October 27, 1990. We thank you for tying the knot tight allowing Cheryl and me a long and happy marriage!

Yours in Christ,

Ted W. Goins, Jr.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Lutheran Services Carolinas at SC Lutheran Assembly

The SC Lutheran Synod was nice enough to allow LSC to present to the Assembly. Below are my remarks. Then LSC Director of Refugee Services Bedrija Jazic was allowed extended time to share the current state of our refugee services work in the State of South Carolina.

Lutheran Services Carolinas is proud to be part of A Reforming Church: Living out Reconciliation and Renewal!

The Synod and LSC do that together.

We do that together when the Ku Klux Klan targets our Columbia office because we serve refugees who are escaping persecution and death. Bishop Yoos and the Synod stood foursquare against the Klan and to oppose anti refugee legislation.

We stand together to serve hundreds of foster children coming out of saddening and often horrendous broken home circumstances.

We have stood together in the last two years developing now 10 group homes for people with developmental disabilities.

We stand together serving homeless veterans, even though that is getting increasingly difficult due to government changes.

We stand together as we partner with WELCA to share books with disadvantaged children.

We stand together in local partnerships to meet local needs: St. Andrew’s Columbia’s refugee Welcome House, St. Luke Florence for use of their ministry house, All Saints Mt. Pleasant’s birthday cakes for foster children, St. John’s Beaufort for Christmas presents for foster children, St. Luke’s Summerville for hosting our foster care Christmas party since the early 2000s, and Reformation Columbia for our shared office/meeting space!

In 2011, our child and family services were about a $15 million ministry. About 10 in NC and 5 in SC.

Today, we have grown from $15 million to a budget of $19M, and one half of that budget is managed out of the Columbia office. I only mention budget because that means we are serving more people who need services!

That growth in ministry is coming through opportunities across the state, and an entrepreneurial and innovative staff in Columbia and around the state. Executive Director Bethany Vause and her staff have been passionate leaders in reform and in ministry.

LSC is just getting started. There are great needs across the state. In part to try to address those needs, the Synod has graciously given us permission to conduct a synod-wide capital campaign beginning in 2018.

One example, I am pleased to announce that LSC, with a grant from the ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response, will be employing a case manager in the ongoing aftermath of the October floods that devastated the area. And at the same time, LSC, with a grant from Lutheran Services in America, will be employing a VISTA worker for the next three years to help indigent and underserved populations be better prepared in the event of disasters. The emergency crews are long gone, but I am proud that our church is walking with those with the greatest need as they rebuild their lives.

Thank you for standing together with us as The Reforming Church, for your prayers, and for allowing me to be here today.

And now the star of the show. Refugee services is one of the hottest topics in the state and in the country. Bedrija Jazik is one of those passionate leaders I mentioned earlier. Our refugee services are growing in ministry and in size and in service. To brief you on the latest in refugee services, please join me in welcoming one of the most dedicated, sacrificing, passionate people I know, Bedrija Jazik.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Claudia Sigmon's retirement with 41 years of service!!!

The letter below will be read to CNA Claudia Sigmon at her Trinity Village, Hickory, retirement party at 2 pm today. I hate I'm not able to be there. Love this woman!

Dear Claudia,

I am so sorry that I am not there to celebrate your retirement from Trinity Village. I’m serving as Chair of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, and we have a major event today at exactly the same time as your party.

On behalf of the entire Lutheran Service Carolinas family, thank you for 41 years of faithful service to the residents of Trinity Village. You have been a role model for me. Your 16 years of quiet leadership and service had already become well known when I started there as administrator 25 years ago. I have witnessed your servant leadership happen ever since.

We often talk about ourselves as the hands and feet of Christ to the people we serve. You are the hands and feet of Christ! Imagine how many people you have comforted and cared for. Imagine how many hours you have served. The simple math of 41 years times a normal 2080 hours worked per year would equate to 85,280 hours. And I’m sure you never worked any extra shifts! You have set a standard that the rest of us can aspire to.

Thank you again for what you have done for your residents and for Trinity Village. God’s richest blessings as you enter this next phase of your life. And remember, once family, always family. So don’t be a stranger.

Yours in Christ,


Monday, April 25, 2016

Customer Service and Lutheran Services Carolinas

I'm traveling for Lutheran Services Carolinas this week and last. Traveling to different cities and staying in hotels highlights the broad variety of customer service experiences.

In the last few days, I have had hotel staff to not be helpful and not look me in the eye, and an airline employee tell me to wait, then 5 minutes later to say she was going on break and that another person would be manning that station for my flight in an hour. Thank you very much. Email me if you'd like know the airline.

But now I am in Minneapolis at the Hilton, where everyone is helpful and seems to genuinely want to be helpful. They remind me of LSC! Part of our secret sauce is people who are passionate about their ministry, and it shows.

By and large, LSC teammates speak to everyone they see because they want to help; phone calls and emails are returned; people are treated with dignity and respect; and we have fun! Life's too short for otherwise.

We always have room to improve. Occasionally we hire a Gloomy Gus or Gussie, but they can't last long in the face of all that passion.

We've also discovered another side effect of being friendly. Security! Security is a growing concern across our society. To protect our clients and residents and our teammates and our buildings, we have to be on guard - with a smile. When we smile, make eye contact, and speak to a visitor, whether it be in the yard of a group home or hall of a nursing home, or in the parking lot at an office, we are letting that person know they have been identified. That alone may stop their ill intended actions.

Security is a byproduct, but remember when we smile, we mean it!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Trip to the Mexican Border

Undocumented migrants, undocumented children, border security, ministry, care, Somali refugees, Cuban asylees, demographics, and immigration politics were the fascinating subjects of a quick 2-day trip to the Mexican border this week.

I flew into the Rio Grande Valley of Texas late on Sunday evening, June 21, 2015 to join about 15 other Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service representatives. LIRS is our national organization that supports refugees, immigrants, and migrants. Lutheran Services Carolinas is the LIRS affiliate that resettles refugees in the Carolinas.

We spent the first day in and around Hidalgo, Texas on the Mexican border, then the second day in Houston. The border area was a different and eye-opening experience. I have never seen so many police. The U.S. Border Patrol was ever present along the border, supplemented by even more Texas law enforcement. Texas has taken a hard stance against undocumented migrants so has bulked up law enforcement. As always, there are two sides to the argument. Law enforcement is upholding the law. Many of the undocumented have been here for years or even generations. Many of them have children born in the U.S., who are therefore citizens. They obviously fear the law enforcement presence, which could sweep up a single mother on her way home from work. A broken tail light can easily tear a family apart.

We got to see this firsthand. You could rarely look in either direction without seeing a police car. Our unmarked, rented, tinted-window bus was pulled over. Members of our party began to search for their identification in preparation for the search of our bus. The Texas State Patrolman seemed surprised when he climbed up the steps to find a dozen white, middle aged tourists staring at him with apprehension. We were not what he was looking for. He smiled, said hello, and didn’t even check our ID. Afterward, we walked right up to the giant border fence and looked over the Rio Grande River into Reynosa, Mexico.

We toured the colonias (colonies) along the border where thousands of people, documented and undocumented, live in houses they do not own and on land they do not own. But they’ve been there so long that they buy and sell these houses (many are shacks) without a title, deed, bank, or lawyer. They’ve created their own economy. We were able to sit down with two mothers and their children to hear of life and fear and hope in the colonias. I asked one third grader what he liked best in school and what he wanted to be when he grows up: mathematics and fireman! His first grade sister: writing and school teacher! Hope springs eternal!

We toured a small ministry run by the sainted Sisters of Divine Providence where we met a dozen Somali refugees. Somalis? Were they lost? Was I lost?
People from Somalia are immediately granted asylum in the United States, if they can get here. The problem is there is no way to get here. But hope springs eternal. These Somalis have found a way. They ride and walk from Somalia to usually South Africa, are smuggled to Brazil on the next continent, make their way west across the Amazon, thru Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Central America, and through Mexico to the U.S. border. If they get here, the prize is asylum. What would make someone take that trip, and many don’t survive? Their stories are haunting: my father was beaten, my brother was killed, I was held prisoner, I escaped….

The border is also teeming with Cubans. A relic of the Cold War, any Cuban who makes it to the U.S. receives asylum. For many years, Castro wouldn’t let anyone leave. Now, Cuba is willing to give its citizens exit visas. Enterprising Cubans travel to Mexico, travel to the border, and present themselves to the U.S. Border Patrol and ask for asylum. Partly as a result, Houston has the largest population of Cubans in America only behind Miami! When Cuba and the U.S. normalize relations that path will stop, so Cubans are coming as fast as they can get here.

In Houston on Tuesday we visited with Refugee Services of Texas, our sister LIRS affiliate. They do great work across Texas! We met Chalak, a refugee from Iraq who is now a staff member. Chalak was an interpreter for our U.S . troops in Bagdad. He said his car was bombed. Thankfully, he said, he was not in the car. Sadly, two of his best friends were. He was granted refugee status and removed to the U.S. before he too was killed. Once again, America is doing the right thing by supporting a refugee who supported our troops.

While in Houston I learned that Houston is now the 4th largest city in the United States! When did that happen?! We heard from an immigration attorney who has been a policy advisor to two Presidents of the United States. He shared the latest on the politics of immigration reform and the chances of immigration reform in the future. And we heard from Rice University professor Dr. Stephen Klineberg about the demographics of Houston and its rich diversity, and demographic trends in America. The major takeaway for me is that we desperately need immigration reform, because the system is so broken, and we need the immigrants to fuel nationwide entrepreneurship and economic growth. Sealing the border to all immigrants seals our fate as a post modern, declining nation.

I fussed and fumed all the way to the airport Sunday afternoon, not wanting to leave home and not wanting to be gone for two work days. But as always, I learned. I learned more about: LIRS and other related ministries, national policy issues, other cultures, and I learned how good we’ve got it and to be thankful for that.