(Rev. Jim Pool, Renaissance Vineyard Church in Ferndale, Feb. 14, 2017)
In all my miles of walking, I’ve learned one simple lesson: you’ve got to start somewhere. It’s little use only wishing you had walked the whole city or wondering if the new guy that moved in next door will go out walking with you. At some point you’ve got to get up off the couch and go.
I’ve been watching and thinking about the refugee and immigration conversation here in the US for some time. It’s grown on my heart.
I’ve been reflecting on all the protests. The work of justice is hard, slow and expensive. Protests and marches are a part of that. More than simply an outlet for pent up frustration, at their best they put pressure on the powers to create conditions for change. Yet I think there is a need for ongoing work in the meantime. Actions we can take at the street level that will actually begin to move our culture in the direction of loving welcome.
It’s with that in mind that I offer these seven simple strategies. So if you wonder what more you can do to express your heart to love your neighbor, including your neighbor from another land, here some experience-based recommendations:
If you’re a neighbor, say hi. It’s seems painfully obvious, but sometimes we miss the trees for the forest. It saddens that sometimes those who march for refugee reform don’t walk across the room to greet the refugees and immigrants in their midst. I’ve seen it happen. I know that many reading this are introverts and/or are uncomfortable in social situations. I understand. Though I’m a raging extrovert, I grew up a wallflower. At heart I’m bashful and find new social situations challenging. Yet I’ve found that a smile, outstretched hand, and “Hi, I’m not sure we’ve had a chance to meet, I’m Jim,” works wonders and is a simple way to start.
If you’re a parent or guardian with school, schedule a playdate. Kids of all cultures love to play and gathering at the park or playground is a great place to find common ground.
If you’re a homeowner or renter, invite them over for a meal. I’m constantly amazed at the power of a simple act of hospitality. If the whole point of a “sanctuary” is to create a safe space of welcome, I’m convinced few things will communicate that more powerfully than extending a welcome to our homes and our tables. We’ve hosted Chinese immigrants, Syrian refugees, homeless neighbors, all at our dining room table, for dinner, dessert, a cup of tea. The effect is significant. Not only does it show kindness to our guests, it transforms us. We come together equally around the dinner table. We learn culture, share stories, as we share a meal.
If you’ve got time, learn a language. I have a friend who works where there are a large number of Arabic-speaking Middle Eastern customers and co-workers. For the first year or two this bothered him. Then last year he decided to learn snippets of Arabic. His vocabulary is growing fast, as is his understanding of basic syntax, as customers bring in new words every day. My friend had been in a difficult season for several years, yet as he described to me this informal education, he seemed more joyful and light-hearted than he had been in a long time. And his attitude was changing. The effect of learning Arabic humanized his coworkers and customers in a way nothing else had.
If you’ve got availability, become a language mentor. Coming alongside immigrants and refugees as they learn English and learn our culture is a powerful way to express welcome, to help them experience discoveries and victories, and walk with them through questions. Little is required in the way of technical skills: the most important qualities are a little time and an open heart. (If you’re local to southeast Oakland County, let me know and I can help direct you to opportunities.)
If you’re a business owner, consider hiring an immigrant or refugee. Hiring a hardworking refugee or immigrant can be a significant way to help them get stabilized and enter into our society and culture.
If you’re a shopper, consider giving some of your business to an immigrant business owner. This is for reasons very similar to the point above. It’s an important way to help these newest neighbors get grounded and grow their families and participate in America.
I know that what I’m suggesting here might not be for everyone. Some might not share any or all of my convictions and others might approach the issue from another direction, offering other solutions. I only hope that together we can grow in loving our neighbors.