How Will You Say “Welcome”?

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.

These words from Emma Lazarus’s poem “New Colossus” appear on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus’s words have inspired generations of people who have come to America seeking a new life, safety, the opportunity to flourish.

But I have to ask: How do these words jive with the position of the United States on the refugees coming out of Syria and Iraq today?

How Will You Say Welcome

Our government has made clear there will be no increase in our current quota for immigrants. While the US has said it will accept 10,000 Syrians in the next year, that number is part of a total of 75,000 immigrants slated to be accepted for the year—from the entire world. A few years ago, Antony Sheehan, the Church Health Center’s president, had to win a lottery to get a visa to enter the US from the UK, which is not a major source of terrorists the last time I checked.

In contrast, Germany just agreed to admit 500,000 Middle Eastern immigrants this year.

But the number of people fleeing ISIS brutalities is in the millions.

Last summer, the immigrants fleeing war and torture in Central America caught our attention because they were on our southern border. This summer, Syrian refugees have been pouring into Eastern Europe. That’s far enough away that since the refugees are no longer camped out at the Budapest train station, their story is not leading the news. And whatever happened to all of the children who came alone across the Texas border last year?

How can we turn our backs?

In the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus is born, Mary and Joseph flee at night to Egypt because of their fear of a despotic ruler. As Christians, how do we not see the parallel in our own time? We worship Jesus, but would we turn him away at our borders if he wanted to be a part of our community? This cannot be what the adult Jesus would expect from us.

The #1 message of hope the New Testament offers us is to “Fear not.”

But what could be more fearful than leaving your home and all you know to become a stranger in a strange land—especially when a treacherous journey with your small children seems like the safest option, your best hope of keeping them alive?

It is clear that the followers of Jesus are expected to offer hospitality to strangers. I am betting that at the end of time, we will be judged not on how we responded to the issues we face in our very wealthy society, but on what we did when those who had nothing came knocking at our door.

When that day comes, may we all confidently know that we did all we could to say, “Welcome.”

Until then, keep the image of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in your mind. How will you welcome them?

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One thought on “How Will You Say “Welcome”?

  1. THE BIG CHURCH THROUGH SMALL EYES Early one Memphis morning in the spring of 1960, a northbound 31 Crosstown bus stopped at the intersection of Peabody and Bellevue. A young mother and her four year old son stepped off the bus and quickly walk across the street to make a transfer. Waiting on the corner was a sea of old black ladies dress in white uniforms heading to their domestic worker jobs in the wealthy suburbs of east Memphis.

    The curious boy turned to his mother and asked, “What is that large beautiful building?”. The mother answered, “Why that is St. John’s Methodist Church”. The four year old then asked, “Mom, can we please go inside and look at the big church?”. The mother snapped, “No! We are not allowed to go inside because that church is only for rich white people! Besides, standing outside is the prettiest place in the world to view the church.” Then, their eastbound transfer arrived and they quickly found their seats in the rear of the bus.

    Over the years, I have driven past St. John’s church many times wondering what the interior of the grand old building looks like. I’d visited the Sistine chapel and St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, and countless other grand churches across Europe. However, I still did not feel comfortable or welcome entering St. John’s church on Peabody. When my wife, Sarah, and I moved back to Memphis in September of 2014, we saw some photos of a St. John’s church service posted by our good friend Rebecca Jordan Gienapp. We decided to visit just to see if we would feel welcomed. We were astonished by the enormous love, congeniality, fellowship and hospitality shown to us by the St. John’s congregation. After our very first visit, we knew that St. John’s was the right church home for us.

    Each Sunday, I bring toys, snacks, and magic tricks for the children of the church. Several members have asked me why I spend so much time and money on the children. My answer is that I see myself in those kids. Unlike my experience as a rejected four year old in 1960, I just want the little innocent angels such as Daniel, Lola, Ava, Coreen, Arial, Kathryn, Vincent, Christopher, and the other children to grow up feeling confident in themselves and knowing that St. John’s is a safe place that welcomes all people. They will also find people there who are kind, loving, encouraging and nurturing.

    I would give anything for my late mother, Ida Swiney, to attend a Sunday morning service with me at St. John’s. I would turn to her and say, “Do you remember 55 years ago when you said, ‘Standing outside was the prettiest place in the world to view the church?’ Well you were totally wrong. For it is inside that is the prettiest place in the church to view the world.”

    I am forever grateful that Sarah and I became members of the St. John’s family.

    May God bless you all,

    Alvin Swiney, aka The Magic Man

    Liked by 1 person

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