From time to time, we come across words and acts that beautifully reflect what it means to stand for welcoming immigrants and refugees — indeed, what it means to welcome anyone who is different.
Doors should be open for strangers
Many strangers — refugees, immigrants, homeless, poor people and anybody who is different — were welcomed at the 26th annual Power in the Spirit at Roanoke College on July 12-14. Outstanding messages on the theme of “Welcoming the Stranger” came from the keynote speaker, the Rev. Ruben Duran, director for new evangelizing congregations in the ELCA, and Bishop Margaret Payne of the New England Synod, Bible study leader.
Duran, a native of Lima, Peru, said the Christian church ought to welcome the stranger “so the doors are always open…We stand equally in God’s eyes in the world.”
He spoke of “a time for mutual strangers to get to know each other better, a time to get out of the comfort zone and meet in the public square.”
Jesus, “a refugee at birth…never saw people as strangers,” said Bishop Payne. Jesus “was born to break down barriers…he welcomed every stranger on the street.” God’s word “shapes us for welcome,” she said. Payne described Christians as “resident aliens” and posed the question, “What if we were engaged instead of enraged?”
Araceli Ryuz of First United Methodist Church, Pulaski, a native of Mexico, asked in a worship service, “If you were a stranger in a foreign culture, how would you like to be welcomed?”
Twenty-eight workshops covered a wide variety of topics related directly or indirectly to the theme of “Welcoming the Stranger.” Servant trips to other lands, refugee resettlement programs, disciples welcoming strangers, science and religion, Appalachian Trail hospitality, backpack feeding ministry for low-income children, justice of loving neighbors, travels of 18th century missionary Paul Henkel, prayer, music and art were some of the topics.
Worship was led by Pastor Sandra Wisco, St. Mark, Charlottesville; Pastor Kathleen Miko, Brandon Oaks chaplain; Vicar Peter Suwak of Central, Burkes Garden; Father Joe Lehman, Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church, Roanoke, and Pastor Bill Stewart, Charlottesville. Music was led by Mark Merz, Anna Merz, Catherine Merz and Hannah Long, Mt. Rogers Parish. Musical storytelling by Ed Kilbourne of Rock Hill, S.C., was an entertainment feature.
Bishop Jim Mauney acted as master of ceremonies, standing in for Elizabeth Smythe, Power in the Spirit coordinator, who was with her ailing husband, Michael Smythe, in Marion. After a long illness, Michael Smythe died on July 17.
We’re grateful to the people and churches mentioned above for their strong commitment to welcoming the stranger.