4, 2008 Guest – Ralie
Refugee Named Jesus
Ralie Deffenbaugh has worked since
1981 with Lutheran organizations concerned with international affairs. A
human rights lawyer, he has headed Lutheran Immigration and Refugee
Service (LIRS) since 1991.
Deffenbaugh traces his interest in international affairs to living in
Geneva and attending the International School there with the children of
many different nationalities. The son of an American executive of the
Caterpillar Tractor Company, Deffenbaugh lived in Geneva from the age of
9 until he was 15. While there, he learned to speak French fluently and
developed a working knowledge of German.
After receiving a 1973
bachelor’s in economics from the
University of Colorado, Boulder, summa cum laude, and a 1977 law
degree from Harvard, Deffenbaugh
worked for a Denver law firm for three years before joining the
Lutheran World Federation (LWF)
in Geneva in 1981. As assistant to the general secretary for legal and
international affairs, he worked mainly on human rights advocacy and
in-house legal matters. He was also the primary staff person for
committees dealing with southern Africa and the LWF constitution.
In 1985 Deffenbaugh became
the Director of the Lutheran
Office for World Community in New York, the office that represents
the LWF to the United Nations and conducts international affairs
advocacy for the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America (ELCA). Major issues of concern included human
rights, Africa, Central America, and international development and
economics. In 1989-90 the year of the transition to Namibian
independence, he acted as legal advisor to the Namibian Lutheran Bishops
in Windhoek, advising the bishops and the Council of Churches in Namibia
on relations between the United Nations and the South Africans, and on
how the independence plan was being implemented. He also served as an
informal consultant to members of the committee drafting Namibia’s
In 1991 Deffenbaugh accepted
an invitation to become the chief executive officer of LIRS, the
cooperative agency of
the U.S. Lutheran
churches working with refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers and
unaccompanied refugee children. Through an emphasis on the strategic
planning process, he has sought to strengthen the sense of
mission of the agency
and create an atmosphere of being open to new areas of need. During his
tenure, the agency’s program and budget have expanded significantly. In
1999 Deffenbaugh moved the
national headquarters of LIRS from New York to offices in The
Lutheran Center—a new six-story building in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
Deffenbaugh served for two
years, 2000-01, as the first chair of the newly formed
USA, the coalition of American voluntary organizations working in
the field of refugee protection and service. He is a member of the
Council on Foreign Relations.
Deffenbaugh was a public member of the 1995, 1998 and 2000 U.S.
delegations to the annual U.N. High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR)
Executive Committee meetings.
and of the U.S. delegation to the special meeting in 2001 that marked
the 50th anniversary of the
U.N. Refugee Convention.
He has also been an observer of political trials for
Amnesty International, the LWF and
the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil
Rights under Law. He has written extensively on the legal, moral and
political aspects of resettlement.
Deffenbaugh’s awards include
the Sylvester C. Michelfelder Award for Christian Service from
Trinity Lutheran Seminary
in Columbus, Ohio in 1995; the Henry and Helen Graven Award for Faith in
Action, Wartburg College,
Waverly, Iowa in 1994: and the Arnold E. Carlson Award,
Gustavus Adolphus College, St.
Peter, Minnesota, in 1991.
Biographical information from