Faithfully Welcoming the Stranger in New Jersey

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Church welcomes immigrants
St. Stephan’s Grace Community in Newark, NJ welcomes immigrants and refugees.

With the Syrian refugee crisis in our thoughts, we are reminded of the suffering and hardship that migrants and refugees experience throughout the world every day—even within our own communities. At times like these, we turn to our faith to seek understanding and to educate and explain the need for compassionate action.

Moacir Weirich, pastor of St. Stephan’s Grace Community in New Jersey, explains the importance of newcomers in our communities and why our faith compels us to advocate for and serve migrant and refugee populations. Pastor Weirich is a 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy alumnus and chair of the immigration task force of the ELCA New Jersey Synod. Moacir writes:

Pastor Moacir preaching
Pastor Moacir speaks to the congregation at St. Stephan’s Grace Community in New Jersey.

From the beginning, the story of God’s people has to do with migration. Abraham and Sarah were called to leave their place and be a blessing to others. Here at St. Stephan’s Grace Community we are in the inner city, a mostly immigrant community in Newark. We are a church called to bless others and advocate for the rights of immigrants and refugees.

We believe, as written in the scriptures, that God hears the cry of the people. The cry that we hear around here includes horror stories of brothers and sisters who leave everything behind in order to survive and find a new life. Many find themselves in detention, deported, and separated from their family or living in the shadows being exploited without a voice. These same children of God have amazing gifts to contribute to our community. As a society we often refuse to recognize the blessing they really are.

Christmas reenactment
The children at St. Stephan’s Grace Community celebrating Christmas with a reenactment.

Newcomers bring a rich culture, including music, language, food, and art. They also often bring a set of skills that complement the work place and a set of strong faith values of solidarity, love, compassion, family, and community.

As for the challenges, many Americans are fearful of the unknown and, due to a lack of interaction with immigrants, often use immigrants as scapegoats for problems not directly related to them. The outdated immigration system and the tense political climate make it hard to build a more welcoming community for immigrants and refugees.

When I hear the stories of our people, the challenges and the joys, I realize that we can do better. Changing federal laws takes a lot of effort and seems impossible sometimes. However, small steps on the local level can alleviate people’s suffering and empower us all to work together, raising our voices. Even Moses was called to go to Pharaoh many times, as many as it would take to convince Pharaoh to let the people go. And along the way we begin to create community.

Visit RefugeeSunday.LIRS.org to learn about refugee stories, find materials and videos, and sign up for a Refugee Sunday kit.

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