Steve Carpenter is MennoMedia’s director of development and church relations.
The media has been subjecting us to unending political rhetoric for a long, long time and the presidential election is still a month away.
When the Democratic and Republican primaries were just beginning more than a year ago, my congregation, Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, decided to put up a sign proclaiming our shared value of welcoming foreigners. The wording for the sign came from our pastor Matthew Bucher and was hand painted by another member of the congregation, Melissa Howard.
It reads, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor” in three languages: English, Spanish and Arabic. IMC’s neighbors speak many languages, but primarily one of these three. Matthew said, “I hope that the sign is a marker to the community. And, I hope that folks leaving IMC after a service are reminded of who we are to be. “
The sign already looks weathered, a bit like all of us who are tired of the heated rhetoric coming from both sides.
Matthew shared this initiative with other pastors in the Harrisonburg District of Virginia Mennonite Conference and they resonated with its message. They asked Nick Meyer, a pastor at Early Church, to come up with a design that would fit on a typical yard sized-political sign. He came up with this tri-colored version.
It is significant that on Aug. 23, Harrisonburg’s City Council voted unanimously to approve a proposal put forth by Faith in Action, an inter-faith organization, to become a “Welcoming City.” IMC and Early Church are each members of Faith in Action. The work done by NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center and the Church World Services’ Immigration and Refugee Office, both led by Mennonites, further supports the intent of this resolution.
Mennonites, as followers of Jesus, have traditionally refused to take up arms in self-defense or in national defense. Some have also chosen not to vote, deciding rather to remain separate from the political process. This year some Mennonite leaders, including Pastor Matthew Bucher at IMC, are encouraging those in their faith communities to put out a “We are glad you’re our neighbor” sign rather than a politically partisan sign. My wife and I have one in our front yard. Unfortunately, the signs are difficult for passing motorists to read. But, they can be read by your neighbors passing by on foot or riding a bicycle.
My wife and I have several rental units. The occupants in our apartments reflect the diversity of our community. We presently have an Iraqi family, who have been granted political asylum, in one, and a recently arrived Congolese family, where both parents work in the poultry processing plant, living in another. In August, we sold one townhome to a young couple who had recently emigrated from Eritrea. Our primary motive for selling it was to be relieved of the headaches the property has caused us, particularly its high tenant turnover rate. We sold it at a significant loss but were happy to help this young family buy their first home and, in our small way, welcome them to Harrisonburg and support affordable housing in the city.
We can act individually to welcome neighbors from places far away. Or, we can act collectively, through organizations like Faith in Action which speaks for a broader faith community or ministries such as the Church World Services’ Immigration and Refugee Office or the NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center which was started by the Mennonite churches of Harrisonburg District.
Either way, I encourage you to act, not necessarily with your vote, but by your words and deeds which reflect the love of Christ. If we do so, Matthew 25:35 reminds us that our heavenly Father will reward us because, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”