Amid hope for a better life, initial entry into a new community can be challenging for both immigrants and their new neighbors. This week’s Monitor cover story, “Ellis Island of the South,” opens a window into the community of Clarkston, Ga., showing how it deals, in many cases successfully, with the challenges of integrating a large immigrant population. The welcome of the church fathers at the former Clarkston Baptist Church (now the Clarkston International Bible Church) is not to be overlooked. Letting the Scripture “you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people” (Ephesians 2:19, New International Version) guide it, this church is finding fresh ways to engage with the newcomers of its changing and growing community.
Barriers to healthy connections between neighbors fall when we understand God’s perpetual, unconditional love for and embrace of all His children. The welcoming embrace of divine Love extends without limit – and it isn’t fleeting. Divine Love leaves no one out. The kingdom of God is where everyone belongs, because we are each made by Him.
The Bible teaches that we are each the reflection or image of God. This means each one of us has an essential role to play in expressing God’s embrace of our neighbors. Reflection involves expressing God’s love for all. This could include demonstrating qualities such as receptivity, openness, appreciation, a valuing of one another, loving hospitality, and respect. A sincere welcome to our neighbor, springing from a deep well of sincerity and from gratitude for God’s goodness in our lives, inspires both the giver and the receiver and even offers healing.
When I first moved to France with minimal French under my belt, something as simple as grocery shopping was ridiculously hard. Dairy products pictured either a cow or a goat, giving me absolutely no clue as to whether I was buying something sweet, sour, or vaguely tasting like the inside of a barn. My home also presented challenges. The washing machine and stove didn’t function at all as I was accustomed. They, too, reminded me that I was a foreigner – that I didn’t fit in.
Then I met the chicken man. Without being able to work my stove, I depended upon others to do my cooking. The first time I met the owner of the local rotisserie, he heard my accent and smiled. He, too, had emigrated from another country. I mumbled little more than “Poulet, s’il vous plaît?” (“Chicken, please?”) and he responded with such kindness and welcoming encouragement. “You are new here? France welcomes you! You speak French very well!” And then he threw some roasted potatoes into my bag free of charge to accompany the chicken. He made me feel as if I was neither a foreigner nor a stranger, but simply someone to be welcomed. His acceptance of me helped me feel a sense of belonging that went deeper than a cordial salutation. I stopped in his shop nearly every day while living in that city, and I was always heartily welcomed – reminding me that my place in Love’s ever-presence is secure, and that wherever I find myself, I am always welcome, embraced in Love, and at home.
Speaking of divine Love, this newspaper’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, writes, “His arm encircles me, and mine, and all” (“Poems,” p. 4). Such an infinite love brings us a sense of belonging that upholds our worth and confidence. Sourced in God, Love, our loving acceptance of others expresses God’s goodness to our neighbors in ways that truly bless. It promotes a spirit of joy in living and working together in and for our common community.