Philadelphia and the surrounding counties are full of immigrants. Many of them are not strangers to us at all, but when very loud and powerful people talk regularly about immigrants in a national policy akin to “stranger danger” we have to respond. Mennonite Central Committee East Coast made a big deal about welcoming the “stranger” in our midst on Saturday, August 4, at Centro de Alabanza Christian Mennonite Church in South Philly.
The keynote speaker, Saulo Padilla, of Mennonite Central Committee, lives in the Midwest. When his flight was cancelled the evening before the event, instead of bowing out, he got in his car and drove through the night to be with us! How can you not celebrate Saulo! I was struck by this insight of his, “The terminology about migration has changed over the years. Those who not long ago were ‘pilgrims,’ ‘explorers,’ and ‘pioneers’ are now ‘illegals,’ ‘wetbacks,’ and ‘criminals.'” These perceptions correspond to policies of family separation at the US/Mexico border, abrupt rollbacks of assistance to potential citizens and elimination of temporary protected statuses, among other ugly realities.
In response we celebrated the beauty of our immigrant neighbor’s cultures. We defied the fear with our togetherness. Circle of Hope is a part of the Philadelphia Area group of churches called the Kingdom Builder’s Anabaptist Network. I (Ben White) am the representative to this group of pastors and other leaders who meet monthly to read the Bible and pray together. Out of our togetherness comes lots of cool stuff, like this event which featured several of our immigrant pastors as part of a panel discussion. There were many immigrant cultures represented including Indonesian, Vietnamese, Mexican and Central American, Haitian, West African and Ukranian to name a few.
How we talk about our neighbors is important because Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Circle of Hope must speak the alternative language of love because these people are our actual neighbors. They are seriously impacted by the negative perceptions and the policies that come from those perceptions. It is not a political issue to them. We care because we know them. We care because we are one body with them. We care because they are our actual neighbors.