Community Engagement

While the federal government’s support for and welcome of refugees has never been lower, I’m grateful that my own community has stepped up with creative activities and services for refugees. One important community partner is Colorado College. Students at the college are teaching basic computer classes specifically for refugees. While the mother of my Congolese family was recently attending the class, I took grandmother Bibi and the girls to an art class for refugee families, also offered by the college. Both activities were run by volunteers and were free for those attending.

In the art class we made gratitude journals, small books showing people and things that we’re grateful for. The teachers demonstrated several art techniques, and offered a variety of media for the students to explore and use in their journals. At the end of the class, each student had the opportunity to share and explain their journal, describing things they’re grateful for. I’m a big fan of gratitude. I believe gratitude shapes our perspective and outlook on life, and helps foster joy. Personally, I’m grateful for this art class and for the volunteers who made it happen.

Also recently, one of the local libraries held a Celebrating Black Children event as part of Black History Month. Librarians advocated for school and local libraries to carry more books about black children and written by black authors. The library had more books about black children than I have ever seen, and they encouraged each family to take some home! What a gift for the girls to finally see themselves in books!

We continued to celebrate black children with food, art projects, decorating paper crowns, face painting, and hair wrapping. The girls loved it all. The lone face-painter had a line of children patiently waiting for her, and children played in the kids section of the library until their turns came.

When it was time to leave, the girls didn’t want to go. It’s not often that they’re celebrated, especially for the color of their skin. At school they’re often bullied and mocked for their skin color and African hair. But at this event, they were surrounded by kind, loving, encouraging black adults who did not just tolerate the girls, but celebrated them! The gratitude I felt was overwhelming.

It doesn’t take a huge budget to help people feel welcome, loved, and celebrated. What’s necessary is an awareness of others and a loving heart. Snacks and art projects always help, but even they cannot replace simple kindness.





Valentine’s Day

Like so many other days and events, Valentine’s Day is a blast when celebrated with my international friends.

We usually have snacks for ESL class, but not like we had last week. Cookies, candy, chocolates, brownies, cupcakes, fruit…. One volunteer even brought in a dozen red roses to share with students and teachers.

We taught language about feelings, friendship, and holidays. The intermediate students discussed a famous poem, which brought them closer together. They also sampled chocolates and practiced making sentences using “I like,” “I don’t like,” and “s/he likes.”

For the grand finale we put out a spread of crafting supplies and invited students to make valentines . . . for their family members, for a company that made a product donation, and for people around the church that hosts the classes. Students went in groups to deliver their valentines to the childcare workers, missions staff, receptionists, and security guards—people who show their love by welcoming and supporting the students and caring for their children.

Our celebration was one of friendship and gratitude—and sugar! I hope we embodied the words of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient.
Love is kind.
It does not want what belongs to others.
It does not brag.
It is not proud.
It does not dishonor other people.
It does not look out for its own interests.
It does not easily become angry.
It does not keep track of other people’s wrongs.
Love is not happy with evil.
But it is full of joy when the truth is spoken.
It always protects.
It always trusts.
It always hopes.
It never gives up.


(Photo credit: special thanks to Gene Cressler)




Nevertheless, We Persisted

2017 wasn’t a pretty year—nevertheless, we persisted. The weather today wasn’t pretty either—20F with a wind chill around 5F—nevertheless, we persisted in our march. “Why I Marched” has been my most-read post to date, and to observe the second annual Women’s March, it’s time for a repost. I marched again today for pretty much the same reasons as last year, many of which have since been intensified. Thanks for reading.

Why I Marched

I’m a progressive Christian, and I’m pro-life. Many people think people like me don’t exist. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one, but I know I’m not alone. Many Christians think that all progressives and liberals are pro-abortion. And many liberals think that all Christians are backward, hateful hypocrites. I’ve heard that the Women’s March didn’t allow pro-life women to march, but nobody asked me to leave. All I felt was love. I’m pro-life, and in a much fuller sense of the word than simply pro-birth. Jesus came to give us life, and life ABUNDANT.

Life begins with conception. Yes. But as a follower of Jesus, my obligation to protect life does not end with a baby’s birth. Jesus calls me to protect life by providing decent healthcare, education, and housing for ALL. Jesus calls me to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned. I take Him at His word in Matthew 25. Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for Him. He calls me to welcome the stranger, the foreigner, the DACA recipients, the refugees and asylum seekers; to protect those who are fleeing war, torture, and violence. Jesus calls me to stand for the rights of women and girls the world over, for people of every color. He calls me to stand for the life and dignity of people with disabilities. I’m even pro-life and pro-equal rights for LGBTQ folks. I take Jesus at His word when He says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

The Bible calls me to steward the environment, which sustains human life on earth. If we don’t take care of the home God gave us, there will not be any life for much longer. Climate change is real.

I’m for Fair Trade. I’m for a living wage. I’m for treating others as I would want to be treated. I’m for loving my neighbor—all my neighbors on this entire planet. I’m for LIFE ABUNDANT, FOR ALL.

Jesus was at the Women’s March. I saw Him. I saw Jesus in the women and girls of all ages. I saw Jesus in the people with tattoos and piercings. I saw Jesus in the men young and old who marched to support women’s rights. I saw Him carrying a sign that read “Undocumented and Unafraid.” I saw Him in the black man who applauded our march with tears in his eyes. I saw Him in the police officers who blocked traffic for us to march safely, and in the people who thanked them for doing their job well. I saw Jesus at the March.

The Women’s March was not a gathering of victims, complainers, or whiny women. It was a demonstration of strength in unity, asking that ALL people be treated with love, care, and respect. The most common chant I heard was: “No hate. No fear. Everyone is welcome here.” It was a demonstration of inclusion, equal rights, education, and health care for ALL. Documented estimates of how many people marched range from 3-5 MILLION. There were hundreds of marches across the country and around the world. Thank God that they were PEACEFUL. No arrests were made at the Women’s March.

Those friends I walked with? Also followers of Jesus. These sisters are women who have slept on floors with me mentoring young teens, inside the local rescue mission. We have eaten together with youth at the local soup kitchen. We have taken young people to the same park where we marched, given sack lunches to homeless people there, and listened to their stories. These women serve with me as volunteers for refugees, teaching them English, mentoring families, and watching the children so their moms can be together and sew. They join me monthly in prayer, and they serve on church committees, trying to teach others how to serve. None of us does these things to earn a reward. Faith without works is not faith at all. Jesus’ followers will be known by their love. Jesus came to:

preach good news to the poor…

proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

If we’re following Jesus, that’s where He’s leading.

I marched for my gay friends who love Jesus. I marched for my refugee friends. I marched for my friends who have lived through rape and abortions. I marched for my Muslim friends. I marched for the women who are groped and abused and underpaid every day. I marched for the girls and boys who are marketed and sold for other people’s pleasure and profit. I marched for Native Americans, the only Americans who are not immigrants. I marched to bring liberals and Christians together—the two terms are not mutually exclusive. Jesus told me to love my neighbor, and that’s why I marched. My loyalty is to Jesus, not to any political party. We’re all broken and in need of a savior, and Jesus came for all of us, to bring us life—life abundant.

To my Salvadoran and African Friends

To my Salvadoran and African friends:

I love you. I thank God for bringing you into my life. I am honored to know you. Your faith in Christ humbles me; your hospitality always cheers me; your joy is contagious.

You hold a special place in my heart, and in this country. You are brave beyond belief. Your cultures are beautiful. In the face of difficulties you continue to embrace what is good and beautiful about this country, which includes YOU.

You are hard-working and compassionate, and you do not give up in the face of nearly insurmountable odds. Your stories inspire me. Your lives make me want to be a better person, to pray more, to believe more, to persevere more.

On this day especially, I want you to know that I love you. I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you’re my friends. Please know that you are loved; you are welcome; you belong here. I would be a poorer person for never having known you.




Year in Review: The Best and Worst of 2017

2017 has had me working harder than ever as a volunteer: mentoring refugee families; coordinating ESL classes, a sewing group and a prayer group for refugees; working in the immigration legal office; organizing events; and working in the sanctuary coalition. In my spare time I read about immigrants and refugees and advocate for their fair and humane treatment. Because of everything that’s going on, I believe it’s even more important for me to write about my experiences, to share with you about things you might not otherwise read about, at least not from a biblical perspective. Thank you for reading in 2017!

In the spirit of the year’s end, I offer you here a review of Stand4Welcome in 2017: the most viewed posts, the least viewed posts, the most liked posts, and the most commented on posts.

Which posts did you read? Like? Share? Which posts made you think deeply or look at something from a new perspective? What kind of posts would you like to see more of? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or by email. And if you’re not already following Stand4Welcome, please consider clicking the blue “Follow” box at the lower right of your screen so you don’t miss a single post in 2018!

Most Viewed Posts of 2017

  1. Why I Marched
  2. Sanctuary
  3. Spring Break!
  4. Giving Thanks
  5. The Newcomers

Least Viewed Posts of 2017

1-3 (tie). Four Days of Thanksgiving

Solidarity in Worship: Refugees

True Facts about Refugees

4. Monuments and Meaning

5. DACA Call-In Day

Most Liked Posts of 2017 (all tie)


Party Time!

Spring Break!


Most Commented on Posts of 2017

1-2 (tie). Why I Marched

Spring Break!

3-4 (tie). Guatemala Reflections

Independence Day

5. Party Time!

These lists were compiled using the stats from my blog; they do not include comments I received in person or via email. 

Thank you for reading in 2017! Please continue reading, commenting, and liking in 2018. Happy New Year!





Monuments and Meaning

We met in the main, central cemetery of Guatemala City, where Teddy Torres gave us a history lesson. The first stop was an enormous mausoleum with an Egyptian theme and a cross on top. It’s owned by a very wealthy family who are masons. Nobody can enter except the family.

A few feet away was a row of rental graves. They’re stacked 8 high, and go for a block of about 20 long. This is where the poor people are buried. The graves are rented for 4 years. If the family can’t afford to renew the lease, the remains are removed, creating space for a new resident.

What were these two very different, even contradictory monuments doing so close to each other? Teddy challenged us to notice the symbols throughout the cemetery and discover what lies behind them, then to do the same thing in our own context, our own country. This was just weeks after violence in Charlottesville left one person dead, over protests about Civil War monuments. Symbols and monuments have meaning; they’re put in place for a reason, and they stand for something.

We moved on to the German section of the cemetery. Teddy confirmed what I had learned earlier in the week: long ago—before the World Wars—Guatemala’s political leaders determined that they needed more smart people in the country, so they recruited German immigrants. The colonists had decided that the indigenous people of Guatemala were less than human, less than intelligent, and that Guatemala needed more intelligent European blood. Does that sound horrifying? To me, the parallels were obvious; just compare this policy to Trump’s immigration policies. Trump doesn’t want any more stupid Mexicans, those bad hombres. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. . . . They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” The RAISE Act would give “priority to the best-skilled immigrants from around the world.” Just as Guatemala imported intelligent Germans to rule over the indigenous people.

Next up, we reflected on a monument built on top of a holy Mayan burial mound, with plaques written in Spanish—the language of the conquerors, not the indigenous people. The monument praised the colonist who had founded this cemetery, on indigenous holy ground. Again, I saw an obvious parallel with the American monuments built on sacred Native grounds, where the American government slaughtered the Native population and celebrated the fact, such as at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee, among others.

Throughout this unconventional history lesson, repeated themes were racism against the indigenous people, stealing their land, forcing them into labor for the colonists, importing better and smarter people to rule, and labeling as communist anyone who stood for indigenous rights.

I invite you to consider the monuments in your own community, your own country. What’s the meaning behind those monuments? What do they stand for? What about America’s National Monuments: Bears Ears and Grand Escalante—how easily can we steal them from the Native Americans, toss them aside, or sell them to the highest bidder? Consider the significance of those monuments to indigenous people, and what our president’s actions mean to them. Will we learn from history, or are we doomed to repeat it?

I pray that we will learn. And change.





The Newcomers

“I found myself surrendering to the joy I was experiencing in Room 142, which began to feel like an end in itself. I wasn’t as interested in determining our collective guilt or innocence in causing one or another part of the global crisis; the refugees I had gotten to know simply felt like a gift.” (Helen Thorpe, The Newcomers, p. 298)

This is precisely how I feel about the refugee families I call my friends. Simply knowing them and sharing life with them is a joyous gift. Helen Thorpe’s newest book, The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom, is another joyous gift. It is a story of transformation, in which Thorpe discovers the stories, the humanity, and the joy of refugee students in a Denver high school.

“The students and their families saved each of us from becoming jaded or calloused or closed-hearted. They opened us up emotionally to the joy of our interconnectedness with the rest of the world.” (p. 300)

In The Newcomers, Thorpe embeds herself in an English Language Acquisition (ELA) classroom populated mostly by refugees. The students are an accurate representation of the millions of refugees the world over, but Thorpe soon gets to know them and their families on a personal level. Language nerds like myself will appreciate the tidbits of ELA wisdom that Thorpe includes in her story. I learned that in the Karen language, there are no hard consonant sounds at the end of words. For several years I had thought that my Karen friend had her very own difficulties pronouncing English words in their entirety, beyond the initial consonant and vowel. But it turns out that’s common among Karen English language learners, because their first language doesn’t have such sounds. Beyond TEFL insights, Thorpe explores the process of refugee resettlement, the horrific reasons why people flee their countries in the first place, and other refugee realities.

“Meeting people whose life trajectories were so different from my own enlarged my way of thinking. Outside the school, arguments over refugees were raging, but the time I had spent inside this building showed me that those conversations were based on phantasms.  People were debating their own fears. What I had witnessed taking place inside this school every day revealed the rhetoric for what it was: more propaganda than fact.” (p. 391)

Thorpe is a journalist who writes narrative non-fiction, which means that she thoroughly researches important topics and writes about them as compelling stories. I read her book Just Like Us in 2010, shortly after a formative trip to the US/Mexico border to learn about immigration, when I was only beginning to learn about immigration and refugees. In that book Thorpe follows four Mexican girls coming of age in Colorado high schools. Two have legal status; two do not. What does a teenager do when she graduates from high school but doesn’t have a social security number? She can’t complete federal financial aid forms to apply to college; nor can she get a job. She might not even be able to get a driver’s license. The book was an eye-opener for me, and set me on a course to learn more about and do more to help immigrants in my community. It’s still a timely read, a fascinating personal look at why the DREAM Act is so important to pass.

Thorpe does her homework. Within The Newcomers, Thorpe references books she’s read about the conflicts these students and their families have fled, books that are now on my own to-be-read pile. Undaunted and For Us Surrender is out of the Question about Burma, Strength in What Remains about Burundi, and King Leopold’s Ghost about Congo will help me to better understand the families I’ve most recently mentored from Burma, Burundi, and Congo. Thorpe even traveled to Congo and visited a refugee camp in Uganda. This is no easy feat in war-torn countries.

Thorpe’s books are timely, well-researched, and compelling. I learned from them, but also laughed and cheered, and was encouraged by her own transformation as she spent time with refugees and immigrants. Her books catalyzed and affirmed my own experiences mentoring refugees, teaching them English, and working with other immigrants.

“I felt buoyed up every time I returned to South. A few hours with students struggling to learn English served as a reliable tonic; as soon as I stepped inside an ELA classroom, I could imagine a completely different future ahead. What was happening around the globe, which was invariably reflected at South, called for us to redouble our efforts, called for us not to let ourselves be defined by the last election. At least while I was at the school, I could envision what it would be like for the United States to realize its true potential—for my country to become what the world needed it to be. . . .

“Despite how fear-based the national conversation had turned, there was nothing scary about what was happening at South. Getting to know the newcomer students had deepened my own life. . . . I would even say that spending a year in Room 142 had allowed me to witness something as close to holy as I’ve seen take place between human beings. . . .  The plain, irreducible fact of good people being made nomad by the millions through all the kinds of horror this world could produce seemed likely to prove the central moral challenge of our times.” (p. 390-1)

I concur.