I overheard an Iraqi refugee talking to his case manager in broken English. I was amazed: this man had spoken no English just a few months before. After the conversation was over, I said to him, "You're English is getting so much better." He laughed and said, "English? Not much. But Spanish, yes." He then started talking in Spanish. We all laughed. Immigration has and continues to reshape America. Refugees are often just as confused as life long residents. They express bewilderment, sometimes outright prejudice and other times, a sense of humor and even enjoyment at how different America is becoming.
Veteran civil rights leader, John Lewis, proclaimed that immigration is the new civil rights battle. As our nation recently opened a memorial for Martin Luther King Jr., it's important for us, especially as Christians, to reflect on our silence, complicity, and compromises. What would King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" say to us, to our churches, about immigration? Fears about transition, about change, about shifts in power and unanticipated alterations of our communal identity are real. But fear is overcome through love--that is, through building relationships, through loving these "others" that we fear. To help provide a context to hear stories, see models of welcoming, and share the joys and struggles of these transitions, we're supporting a film screening of Welcome to Shelbyville on Sept. 17.
This film documents the challenges and blessings in building community across racial, national, and religious lines in a small, Southern town. http://vimeo.com/13152216 Your church can also participate in DREAM Sabbath, which will give your church a chance to hear from and reflect on the experiences of undocumented immigrant youths. You can continue to follow the conversations on the undocumented.tv blog, or even host a screening of their short film. The makers of Welcome to Shelbyville have a Building a Nation of Neighbors curriculum and the NC Council of Churches has put together a great Bible study. It's easy to imagine yourself fighting alongside civil rights leaders back then. But will you stand with our vulnerable immigrant neighbors now? Will you, like the Iraqi refugee, find joy in the differences of our community?