Having traveled through numerous Arabic speaking countries in the past few years, Janny and I have grown to enjoy the language and culture. A couple months ago we drove to El Cajon, about 30 minutes east of San Diego, for a doctor’s appointment and noticed that all the signs were in English and Arabic, rather than the usual English and Spanish.
As we sat in the waiting room I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of the couple next to me. It was a conversation I would have rather not heard and it broke my heart. They were complaining about the signs including Arabic and the more they talked the more heated they got. At one point, the wife said, “First it was Mexican, now it’s Iranian sh*%.” She went onto say even more “colorful” stuff that I won’t include here. I couldn’t believe my ears and I was torn between tears and rage.
San Diego is a Sanctuary City which offers a home and fresh start for international refugees. El Cajon has the second largest Iraqi refugee population in the U.S. as they host tens of thousands of people who have been displaced by the current war. The neighborhood adjacent to us is home to an equally large number of refugees from war torn parts of Africa. In fact, numerous people who we serve with in NieuCommunties have walked alongside these families for 2 years to teach them English and assist them in integrating into a very new culture. Just a couple weeks ago, Janny and Ruby (my wife and daughter) spent the day playing games and running relays with the refugee kids in this neighborhood.
These are God’s children and they have gone through stuff that I can’t even imagine. Many have lived in slums trying to escape death and persecution for 20+ years waiting for approval to move to the U.S. They haven’t experienced a day of peace in their lives. Once they get here, they have 8 months of assistance and then they are on their own. Not knowing the language and culture, the odds are stacked up against them and many end up homeless. The last thing they need are the prejudices of those like I ran into in the doctor’s office.
When we employ such polarizing rhetoric, we not only violate American ideals (other than Native Americans, we were all immigrants at one time), we fracture God’s dream for humanity. When we understand Jesus’ attention for the Samaritans (Israel’s unwanted “half breed” after Assyria took the Northern Kingdom), we see that if He were on earth today He would be sitting at the dinner table with these modern refugees. Reality is, in the lives of His followers, Jesus is on earth today and we are to take a seat at the table.
Are we going to sit at the table or remain in a bubble that only drifts farther and farther from the heart of God and the model of Jesus?
Thinking back, I mainly feel sad for the couple at the doctor’s office. I am sad that they are aren’t sitting at the table and enjoying the feast of God’s diverse Kingdom. And honestly, I know I have prejudices of my own I need to work on before I can point fingers at them.
Pic: Picture we took of a stop sign in Casablanca, Morocco.