You may have read my post entitled “Instead”published on August 8. My “kindred spirit” Barbara Sibley who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, responded to that post by com- menting that “hanging out” with members of an immigrant community near her has shown her the “outworking of the concept of ‘instead.'” I asked her to share her experiences with the refugees she has befriended and worked with. Here’s her own version of “Instead.”
Let me say right off the bat that I am a stranger. While, by all outward appearances, I look like a “typical” American woman—white, educated, and married with grown children—I am convinced that what is currently going on in America is anything but typical. In the past several years, the divisiveness, chaos, and stunning lack of civility have grown to fever pitch, targeting, among others, the immigrant and refugee population. As this cultural and political debasement continues to unfold, I feel deeply saddened and estranged. What in the world is happening?
Well, I discovered an answer to that question in a nearby apartment complex where immigrant and refugee families live. Since I work in a writing center at our local community college, I figured that I could “help out” with volunteer tutoring at evening homework sessions for high school and college students held at the apartment’s community center. Plus, this past summer, I joined a team of volunteers to assist teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to the women residents.
In this setting, I thought I would be the teacher; instead I actually became a learner. I learned that I can choose to be anxious about the day-to-day political intrigues which so easily entangle my soul, or, instead, I can consider the experience of immigrant families who arrive in America seeking refuge or asylum after their own hellish experiences with repressive, dangerous governments. In addition, many refugees have already lived for years—yes, years!—in abysmal camps, waiting to leave. These same refugees arrive here and become marginalized and in many cases demonized.They are regard- ed as undeserving of respect or con- sideration—just the type of folks Jesus would hang out with. What’s more, these “strangers” among us are exactly the ones who can make America great again; the vast majority of them bless the United States and “kiss the ground” of this country as they consider where they came from and the opportunities before them, despite all the obstacles in their way.
My time among these individuals is a spiritually charged antidote to the upheaval in America which swirls and threatens to engulf me. This vulnerable population, so fragile and yet so filled with hope, brings me face to face with Paul’s admonition: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), a “good” that shows itself plainly with a shared hug, a broad smile, or a new understanding of an English phrase.
So yes, I am still a stranger, but one who is joyfully welcomed in simplicity and trust among a community of new immigrant and refugee friends. Through them, I see Jesus beckoning, and I am enfolded in His arms. Here, I too, am welcomed home.