Can We Redefine America’s ‘Welcome’?

When I’m driving down an interstate highway and see a sign that says “Welcome to Virginia” (or any other state) … I must confess that I don’t feel particularly understood, accepted, embraced, or empowered as I cross that border.  Do you?

“Welcome” has become a word emblazoned on signs and doormats.  We hear it at a new job and when we walk in to Home Depot.  We feel compelled to say it to someone who is “new” or whom we have not met before at school or at church.  But “welcome” is not living up to its potential in our nation, our communities, and our lives.  It’s time for us to redefine welcome, to deepen and broaden our understanding of true welcome, and to be a faithful practitioner of a welcome that is sustained.

This blog is one way for us to talk about welcome, think about welcome, and explore actions that can transform our communities into places of welcome for migrants and refugees.

Last week I led a class of seminarians in a discussion of faith in action with refugees and migrants, changing demographics in America, and what this means for ministry in local congregations.  We spoke about three key ways to build awareness and engagement that lead to understanding and action for welcome to newcomers:  faces, facts, and faithfulness.

  • The human faces of migration are so very important.  When we meet our newest neighbors, know their names and discover their stories, we begin to make a social connection that changes lives.
  • Speaking the truth out of love means knowing the facts about immigrants and overcoming myths that are harmful.
  • Faithfulness to our Christian calling means we delight in the opportunity to consider where the Bible is leading us today, in our communities and in our churches.  The clear messages to “welcome the stranger” and “love your neighbor” are an open invitation to put faith into action with refugees and migrants.

In what ways are you learning about and experiencing real welcome, making meaningful connections with newcomers, and helping to transform communities into places where there is a deep sense of belonging?

Image credit: WingChi


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  1. says

    By smiling, asking questions, listening, and creating venues for refugees and immigrants to share their ever-inspiring stories, stories of courage, resilience, and an irrepressible hope for a brighter future.

  2. Erika Berg says

    By not just creating venues for newcomers’ stories to be heard and seen, but to also engage surrounding communities – teachers, students, parents, legislators, and of course refugee and immigrant community leaders – in issues raised by their stories. For once sensitized to issues surrounding those forced to flee, listeners/viewers automatically become more welcoming, interested, and supportive. For example, at Seattle Art Museum, throughout the month of October, 2012, we exhibited “Forced to Flee: Visual Stories by Refugee Youth from Burma.” Here is a brief video tour:

  3. Kate Gaskill says

    “Speaking the truth out of love means knowing the facts about immigrants and overcoming myths that are harmful.” I appreciate this observation, Linda. So often I feel that as people of faith, we are very comfortable listening to stories of our new neighbors and noting the biblical mandate to “welcome the stranger” within the walls of our churches. (Sundays of Welcome, Bible studies or adult forums on immigration, and other spiritual practices are important, certainly.)

    But it seems that we are far less comfortable in being active, informed citizens who not only understand and share facts about immigration with our communities, but also reach out to our law makers to influence public policy around this critically important issue. I feel this call to “know the facts and overcome myths” is challenging for many of us, but where there is unique opportunity for influence and lasting impact.

  4. Emily Sollie says

    I like your focus on “faces, facts and faithfulness.” When we get to know someone as an individual, they become so much more than “a refugee” or “an immigrant.” They are a child of God, just like you and me, and you’re so right that knowing their faces and their stories is an important step to changing lives – both theirs and ours.

    • jpattee says

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Emily, and for reading. I hope we can do more to help people get their stories across.

      – Linda

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