When Accompaniment Becomes a Calling
“Refugees Welcome” reads a sign in the window of a toy store in my neighborhood. Though the merchandise inside appeals to children, the message is one at the very heart of our Christian faith. In the church called together in the name of Jesus Christ, who himself grew up in a family forced to flee the threat of violence soon after his birth, we cannot avoid addressing the complex issues of millions of people on the move in our world today.
Many of those on the move are families with children. Some appear at our southern border in search of stable homes away from gang-violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Others have left Somalia or Ethiopia, crossing through Libya in search of economic opportunities in Europe and beyond. And many more are fleeing daily violence in Syria, escaping to Lebanon, Turkey and the countries of the European Union. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has declared this mass migration a humanitarian crisis of the scale last seen following World War II.
Welcoming immigrants is the work not only of governmental agencies; it is the work of the Christian community. As we Minnesota Lutherans did generations ago in welcoming newcomers from Germany and Scandinavia, and decades ago in embracing Hmong refugees from Laos and Thailand, we are now called to welcome as new neighbors the Karen people from Burma, the Somali, the Oromo and others from east Africa, and – as they arrive – Syrian refugees. Doing so with grace, generosity, tolerance and understanding is something we Lutherans can do well. As the popular saying goes, “that’s how we roll”.
But the challenges of diversity are encountered not only as a new immigrant family arrives in our neighborhood. Two blocks from that toy store, the student body at the local middle school includes 62% students of color. The cosmopolitan nature of community life is reflected in most of the urban and suburban settings where we gather for worship. The counties that make up the Saint Paul Area Synod are increasingly racially diverse. Now is the opportune time for us to address how we regard all persons of color, native born or newly arrived.
The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is passionate and clear in her directive that we address the sin of racism in all the ways it shapes our daily life. She and William Horne, a former member of the ELCA Church Council, will host their second live webcast on Confronting Racism: A Holy Yearning on Thursday, January 14 at 8 pm (Central). The Synod Council will view this crucial presentation as part of their meeting that night. I invite you to gather as congregations to do likewise. (Details on the live webcast can be found at www.elca.org/webcast.)
The lessons in this Season of Epiphany point to the life-transforming power of God’s presence in Jesus and in our world. From the earliest days when Jewish and Gentile Christians learned to see one another with fresh eyes, the church has been a place that teaches people of faith to move from fear to trust, from ignorance to solidarity. May the Light of Christ, shining through us, once again bring hope, new beginnings and reconciliation to our weary world.
Yours in God’s service –
Patricia J. Lull, Bishop