One Immigrant’s Journey

Rebuilding Hope, November 2014 edition
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As we celebrate our 75th anniversary, we at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) continue to gain inspiration from the strength and courage of the many migrants and refugees we have assisted — including those who’ve been with us almost since the beginning!

George Emrich PhotoThe LIRS legacy stretches all the way back to the end of World War II, when American Lutherans reached out to displaced Europeans who needed help.

What started essentially as a mutual assistance association soon grew into something much bigger, as generous people like you kept asking the same questions over and over again: “Who else can we help?” and  “How can we help them?”

Through your support of LIRS today, you continue a long legacy of service that began three decades ago — with people like you, and immigrants like 72-year-old George Emrich.

“We’re all here to help our fellow man. Sometimes you don’t need a whole lot to get started,” says George Emrich, who immigrated to the United States with his family just after the Second World War.

George was born in Transylvania, a region in Romania, in 1941. Soon after his birth, his family was kicked out because the government didn’t want Germans to stay in their country. Romania was their home, but they weren’t welcome anymore.

Displaced and desperate, the family spent years in refugee camps, trying to find a safe place to settle down. In 1952, when George was just ten years old, they came to America when a Lutheran Church in Virginia sponsored them.

“I didn’t know the language. That was the biggest challenge,” he says. “Twin boys led me around at school and took care of me. They were compassionate to me.”

Despite the turmoil of his early life, George was a bright kid. His math skills were up to grade level, but his language skills made other classes difficult. No one seemed to know what to do with him. “I went from 5th grade to 1st grade to 6th grade in a year,” he says.

Soon though, a teacher took an interest in George, and he began to thrive. “She gave me a subscription to National Geographic and a radio, and I used to listen to that. I couldn’t understand anything, but that was okay. She told me to rake her leaves, and gave me money for spending.”

“Someone has got to get refugees started,” says George. “Just a small stimulus can make a huge difference.”

George teaches electronics now and speaks English perfectly with no accent at all. But he never forgets where he came from or the kindness of the people who helped him get to where he is today. “It was the promised land. That’s what it was to us. And someone made an effort to take us in.”

That’s the difference generous friends like you have been making for 75 years through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. When you support LIRS, you continue to have a vital impact on the lives of people like George. Thank you!

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