I’ve been in Princeton, New Jersey the last few days, giving a lecture at a conference on the history of World Christianity. Yesterday as I walked to the site of the meetings, I came across a yard sign that stopped me in my tracks. It so expressed what I have tried to live by in my life for many years. I even helped start a ministry to Muslims that had the name ‘Neighbours’ (using the spelling of most of the rest of the English speaking world). You can see the sign in the accompanying photo, and noticed that it is not only written in English!!
Here it is: No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor. I have blogged before against the ‘America first’ ideology, and cautioned of its historic antecedents in the 1930’s. (See ‘America First’? Not if India and China Have A Say In It) The subject of immigration is of course extremely complicated, but when the United States, or any nation, has gone through periods of closing their doors, even for short periods, it is only to their detriment. As I have said before, I believe there is a blessing on nations that take in refugees. That blessing is not always economic of course, but manifests in various ways in a culture of hospitality and welcome. Economic prosperity is not necessarily always the primary consideration. How about the character of a nation?
The words of President Trump last week referring reportedly to ‘shit-hole’ countries, are sadly reflective of real attitudes of perhaps millions of people in the US. It comes from a variety of sources, from how we are trained in our education to see the US as the ‘best country in the world’, to how the media bombards us with only the negative images of the world. (when world news is even covered.) I remember a few years ago, on a furlough from our work in India, I turned on one of the main TV channels for what was called ‘World News’, hungry for other perspectives. In a 30 minute broadcast, there was not one item of news from outside the US!
We must do anything we can, any way we can, to communicate a message of welcome to those around us. The ministry of hospitality is one of the most important ministries of the Church, and a nation that reflects that openness and inclusivity will be blessed. We need the attitudes in this yard sign not only outside our houses, but more importantly in our hearts.
I’ve just been at a conference here in Princeton with probably over 50 nationalities (or more) represented. Many of the participants from these nations had studied in the US including at Princeton. They have all contributed in many diverse ways to the richness and strength of the US. Some still live here, others have gone back to their own countries to contribute back home. I was deeply impressed again with the commitment of places like Princeton to welcome, serve and enrich the lives of their students, faculty and visiting guest lecturers, no matter what nation they come from.
Maybe you don’t want to put up a yard sign like this in your yard. But please do let these attitudes grow in your hearts, and teach them by words and life to your children and all those you come in contact with.
Not America First,
America Welcomes All.