The last few months have been quite the political breeze: words flying around in the tumult of political rhetoric and fear, all neatly delivered through voices on our screens and in our cars daily. Gradually, it becomes easy to believe that the safest thing we can do is shut out those in search of life because of the danger that the outsider presents to us. Yet simultaneously, as the church, this has the potential to disrupt our union with Christ, because in welcoming we are joined to the divine.
Let me take you back to the beginning where God alone existed. In harmony, the three persons of the Godhead enjoyed perfect love. Despite this completeness, we know that among God’s first recorded acts he welcomed the ‘other’ into his existence. He welcomes the light, the land, the animals, and finally humankind into the joy filled gift of life.
From the oppressive realm of darkness, God welcomes individual life into his world; fully aware that this creation would struggle to wrest authority from his grasp. Yet, the Bible records that God walked with man and woman, speaking life into them, sharing love with them, and welcoming them into life-eternal in his presence.
Fast forward a few thousand years and mankind has estranged themselves from the life of God, but this does not hold God back. With years of violence and hatred, humanity sets its face to push God out of life. Yet, through a series of loving events, God welcomes humanity back into his life by giving up his only Son; one of the three persons who had the original rights of existence. Instead of an almighty declaration that humanity goes back to non-existence, God moves forward to welcome again.
The core of our faith is the declaration that God welcomes, and that through Christ, we the church, can welcome the world to God. The question is, can we proclaim the welcoming message of the Gospel and simultaneously use our hands and voices to close the door to the stranger? Are we going to allow this to be an age of welcome, or will humanity forever remember this as an age of fear?
When we choose to welcome, we actively dismantle the powerful rhetoric of fear that keeps us from the other. Instead of filling the void between the other and us with oft-empty words of love posted online and spoken to friends on the inside, we powerfully put our very selves into that empty space. Soon the chasm that once reverberated with the noise of opposing ideas gets filled with the flesh and blood of love. I’m an optimist, I like to believe that the biggest issue keeping us from making that leap into the void is a lack of concrete ideas.
This is how we can capitalize on a cultural climate that so overtly works to close our hearts to the other. It gives many ways to use our lives to actively work against this perpetuation of fear. Since I work in refugee resettlement my examples will be from this field of work, and although certain times call for certain emphasis, the Church is never called to forget others in our pursuit to welcome some.
Welcoming looks like sitting on a curb, waiting with the father of a refugee family for his ride to work on the night shift. This is a man who has fled a war in Sudan with his family of seven. He hasn't had steady work for years. He speaks limited English and has only once seen the company where he is working. So I sit next to him, waiting for his car to arrive to bring him to work. Praying that the Lord equips him with courage and grants him success for the well being of his family.
Welcoming looks like a family bringing a young single refugee into their home as their own son. A man who has fled violence that threatens his life in Africa finds himself in West Chicago. He is free case which means he doesn’t know anyone in the area. Welcoming is when a volunteer agrees to meet with this man, reaching out in the simple gesture of friendship. Welcoming is making the outsider feel like your very own family, holding yourself out in the partnership of friendship through participation in the volunteer programs at organizations like World Relief.
Welcoming looks like hauling dressers and beds clumsily into apartments so that when a family arrives, they have a full place to call home, instead of empty rooms.
Welcoming looks like spending 10 hours in the hospital with a mother as her family goes through medical screening. Babies crying, screaming, medical screening devices cluttering the hallway. A woman from Myanmar who has fled the grasp of a harsh regime finds her self waiting again in strange surroundings. Welcoming is not allowing people to wait alone any longer.
Welcoming looks like a family giving three hours of their day to meet another new family at the airport. The journey has taken 17 years. A man and his family of five from Bhutan fled an ethnic cleansing perpetuated by the government. Fleeing for their lives, they found refuge in a camp and time suddenly stopped in deafening fashion for 17 years. Welcoming is receiving a family with a kind of love that shows them that time will no longer hold them in a prison of stillness.
Welcoming looks like doing. Bottom line welcoming has legs and arms and a voice. Welcoming does not sit behind a screen enraged by politicians feeding a culture of fear. Welcome is love-charged action. Welcoming gives time. Welcoming gives energy. Welcoming gives money. Welcoming gives voice.
Welcoming gives love wrapped up in flesh and blood.
Welcoming is bringing others into fuller existence through the affirmation of love; through the powerful extension of the life giving love of God who is always seeking to bring us home.
Welcoming brings people home. Whatever person God calls you to welcome into your life, welcome them and join in the divine. In Welcoming We Join the Divine
Dan Peterson lives near Chicago, Illinois, USA where he works in refugee resettlement with World Relief. He enjoys discovering old books, new places, and good coffees. His dream is to summit a mountain on every continent and have a pet pygmy marmoset.
Dan Peterson's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/dan-peterson.html
Dan Peterson is an American young writer from Chicago, ministering in the refugee arena. Dan is a musician and personal fitness trainer.Dan Peterson's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/dan-peterson.html