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Welcoming the Stranger

Dr. Bill Selvidge
Director, Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies Degree

I must admit that I was not your average onlooker at the district workshop “Welcoming the Stranger.” Workshops at district gatherings are good opportunities to learn practical ways to carry out ministry. However, one never knows how many people might actually show up. There was seating for about 30 people but it ended up as a standing room only event.

Alisha led the workshop.  She’s been directing the English Language Learners program at our local church for the past ten years or so. She enlisted the help of two others: Roger, an immigration law attorney, and Christina, pastor for multicultural ministries. All three are part of our local church.

The great response to the workshop topic was gratifying certainly, but I sense that it represents a desire by local churches to do what pastors, missionaries, and missions teachers have been stressing for quite some time. Cross-cultural witness to Christ is possible right in our own neighborhoods. Where once we depended on news from distant places we are now encouraged to realize that the movement of peoples from everywhere to everywhere brings a wonderful variety of cultures to our doorsteps.

Perhaps the churches represented by the folks crowded into the workshop room had not only heard this but wanted to do something about it. They began to see those around them who were from other places and who needed to know Jesus.

As part of the workshop, Roger offered scripture passages that showed God’s concern for the outsider, the new neighbors among God’s people. Dealing day in and day out with immigration policies and practices, Roger spoke from a deep conviction regarding the role of the follower of Jesus in both helping the new ones among us while at the same time pressing for clearer and more consistent immigration policies.

Christina spoke from her heart as a pastor and an immigrant about moving to a new place and the needs that go along with the transition. On the way to knowing Jesus there are many other needs that, like paving stones in a garden, may lead the way.

One need of our new neighbors is access to the ‘locals’ in their new home. They want to learn how to live in the new city, how to master local customs and legal requirements, and to improve their ability to communicate. We natives understand these things. We understand how to obtain drivers licenses. We know how store clerks and baristas will mostly likely greet us (and what they mean by those greetings).
One of the greatest needs is improving skills in a local dialect (American English for example). We local natives understand expressions, shortcuts, all the stuff that can drive people crazy trying to get it all from books. How can our new neighbors gain access to the folks who have this wealth of cultural knowledge? The church can provide this access and can do so joyfully as the Spirit opens our eyes to what God is doing in a particular place.

At the workshop Alisha described how churches can offer access to local native speakers (us!) and provide improved communication skills through English Language Learners opportunities. She shared a helpful starter guide to the process.

Perhaps part of this awareness of others(1*) among us comes out of the familiarity of rubbing shoulders with people from other places. Working, studying, and living with others breaks down some of the prejudices that we haven’t dealt with previously. Others become people with names; they share the same needs we have – to get to work, to get the kids to school, to find medical services.

Christian anthropologist and missiologist Paul Hiebert speaks to this point. In a helpful article(2*) that reviews the history of humankind’s consideration of the “other,” he points to the inherent self-centeredness that such a dichotomy between “us and them” reveals. Christ will not permit such an ordering of peoples that makes ourselves the center and everyone else subordinate others. Hiebert concludes, “At the deepest level of our identity as humans, there are no others. There are only us.” The title of the article cleverly presses the point, “Are We Our Others’ Keepers?”

Those who crowded into the workshop space may also have been challenged through recent denominational resources. General Superintendent (Church of the Nazarene) Jerry Porter provided a helpful editorial “The Immigrant Among Us” in the May/June 2012 issue of Holiness Today (3*). He points out how we may honor the immigrants among us, and speaks to the legal questions surrounding immigration issues in the US.

Dr. Porter’s editorial was published just prior to the Summer 2012 issue of the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries Magazine(4*) that devoted the entire issue to immigration in North America and throughout the world.

It’s a long process to move from awareness of others, to seeing others as part of us, to specific steps to minister to others. Doing so in resonance with the Scriptures and in the name of Christ is part of participation in God’s moving in the world, a mission that God invites each of us to join.


(1*) I like the term others. It seems a better word to describe those called by different terms such as alien, stranger, etc.

(2*) Paul G. Hiebert. “Are We Our Others’ Keepers?” Currents in Theology and Mission. 22 no 5 (October 1995): 325-337.

(3*) www.holinesstoday.org/nphweb/html/ht/article.jsp?sid=10005109&id=10011521

(4*) ncm.org/magazine/

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