By Anna Culton
Worcester, MA is a diverse city in every way imaginable. There are nearly 100 languages represented in the public schools. Individuals and families come from all around the world for educational and employment opportunities. Every major religion is represented, and in just four square miles, household incomes range from $13,000 to $80,000 a year. This is just a snapshot of the diversity around me – my list could go on for pages!
When we allow ourselves, Worcester residents are able to see that we live among one of the densest populations of refugees in North America. Our city’s diverse refugee population comes from all around the world, seeking solace and safety from war-torn countries and religious persecution. Most have been in refugee camps for a minimum of five years and only possess a few belongings and personal treasures, linking them to their heritage and home.
If you’re on Facebook, it would be nearly impossible for you to avoid seeing something regarding immigration, refugees, or any other topic about “those people” who are not like us, who don’t believe what we believe, or who aren’t from where we are from. It’s everywhere, and as Christians, we must respond. No, I don’t mean respond to a post on your newsfeed. I mean REALLY respond! Don’t worry, this is not a political article, but it is one charged from the truth of Holy Scripture:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:25-36)
Notice in Matthew 25, we are presented with five very uncomfortable encounters:
The hungry and thirsty – Do we feel guilt when we see the needy?
The stranger – We warn our children about them. Do we live in fear of them?
The naked – No one wants to see or be around the naked. Do we look away?
The sick – Sickness repels us. Do we look away from human weakness?
The imprisoned – They deserve it. Why would we enter their holding place?
I recently found a pretty good “groove” with my work/life balance. I’m finishing grad school, working at The Journey Community Church full-time, saving up to adopt with my husband of three years. Things are pretty good. The processes are working, and I’m comfortable.
Well, I was comfortable.
See, the needs of refugees are a big deal in Worcester. There are too few caseworkers and not enough funding to provide adequate care for each refugee.
We are the Church. The hands and feet of Jesus (as we sing, or click “re-post” on inspirational images of orphans). A reaction from the local church is necessary.
Our amazing God laid the burden of refugee care on the hearts of several church leaders from around the city at the same time, birthing WARM: Worcester Alliance for Refugee Ministry.
WARM is a very new organization, seeking to bridge the gap between the Church and Worcester’s refugees. It’s been exciting to be a part of the development of WARM, meeting new people, interacting with refugees, and gathering data and materials to develop a thoughtful, Spirit-led plan of action. However exciting it may be, developing this new organization has been an uncomfortable process. Not only am I face-to-face with people who have suffered more than I could imagine, but I’m interacting with countless opinions on the issue. It’s not a perfect process … I like perfect processes. I’m uncomfortable. Sometimes extremely uncomfortable.
When I say: Immigration … Refugee … Muslim … Hindu … Conflict … War … Liberal … Conservative … what feelings do you notice come up in you?
Intrigued? Excited? Uncomfortable?
When you encounter something that makes you uncomfortable, I want to ask you to do four things:
– Don’t ignore it – Look at it, read about it, sit with it.
– Notice your feelings – Are you angry, sad, nervous?
– Be curious – Ask yourself “Why is this coming up inside of me?”
– Pray – Ask God what kind of opportunity he may be presenting to you.
By avoiding situations that are uncomfortable, we are holding up a big sign that says “NOT ME,” when we are supposed to be crying out “HERE AM I!”
I’m not saying to look for conflict, pain, or discomfort. What I’m urging you to do is take the time to sit in discomfort when it presents itself. Be brave enough to ask God what he might have for you in it. If I left WARM in the most uncomfortable time of the imperfect process, I am confident that I would be stepping right out of an amazing story that God has invited me to be a part of.
Don’t miss out on what God is doing because you’re afraid of being uncomfortable.
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)
Anna Culton lives in Northborough, MA and is a part of The Journey Community Church in Worcester, MA where she leads worship and works in ministry support and development. Currently pursuing her Master’s in Nonprofit Management, Anna is in the beginning stages of founding a program for Worcester’s refugee population. She and her husband, David, can be found photographing, hiking, listening to the latest Timothy Keller audiobook, or eating almost anything covered in dark chocolate. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org