Today’s headlines say a lot about refugees and immigrants. Yet not much of what we read adequately prepares us to effectively facilitate their transition to American life once they settle down in our neighborhoods. What can we as church leaders do when they come to us for help?
Because many immigrants hail from patriarchal or machismo cultures, it’s vital that women leaders reach out to the women and children. First of all, it is the immigrant woman—not the man—who struggles the greatest in setting up a home, finding schooling options for her children, and feeding her family. Second, an immigrant woman will likely not respond, or be permitted to respond, to men trying to help her. Third, it is the woman and her children who are most vulnerable in this type of transition—and it is we as women whose help will likely be accepted and trusted more readily.
To best help immigrants in our communities, we must first set aside political opinions on the matter, and view our immigrant neighbors as fellow human beings, created in the image of God. Each one, regardless of accent, culture, or skin color possesses a God-breathed soul. Any help or service we offer must flow from the springs of compassion and love that are fed by God’s own supply. Along with prayer, there are several practical things we can do for the immigrant next door.
Practical Soul Needs
“People migrate with their cultural beliefs and practices.” —Kenneth Guest
Anyone who has ever moved, especially cross culturally, can to identify with, or have empathy for, a newly displaced immigrant neighbor during the process of adaptation and acculturation. At times, frustration, sadness, confusion, and a deep sense of loss may accompany her as she navigates life in a foreign culture. The more we can understand her reality, the better we can assist her.
Whether we are Mexicans or Americans, Syrians or Egyptians, language, values, and cultural traditions connect, identify, and give us a sense of belonging. The first step in reaching out to the immigrant is learning to appreciate those elements that have been woven deep within her soul.
Everyone longs to communicate, to be heard and understood. Language is key. Even if your new neighbor does have some ability to speak English, take a chance by learning a phrase or two of greeting in her native tongue. She will be grateful to hear you speaking her heart language (even if imperfectly). Perhaps she’ll also be more receptive during future interactions.