Welcoming Evacuees and Refugees

Welcoming Week Potluck event hosted at International House by Charlotte International Cabinet (Charlotte, NC Sept 20, 2017)
Welcoming Week Potluck event hosted at International House by Charlotte International Cabinet (Charlotte, NC Sept 20, 2017)

During this treacherous hurricane season I’ve seen some wonderful gestures from all kinds of organizations and people offering to welcome evacuees getting out of the path of hurricanes.

As hurricanes approach people have to decide if they will evacuate or stay put. What would you do if you were told you had to evacuate? Would you go? You’d only be able to take what you could carry, what would you take with you, knowing that what you leave behind will probably be lost?

Much to my dismay, my parents, who live in Ft Lauderdale, Florida, decided to stay in their home during Hurricane Irma. Thank God Irma took a turn and my parents, and other family members, were spared the brunt of the storm. Others who decided to stay put, were not so lucky (may God help them recover).

I realized, it takes a lot to compel people to leave their homes (what they know, what they are comfortable with), to go to another place, even if it’s a shelter just a few miles away.

What hurricane evacuees face is similar to what those who leave their homes to find shelter and safe haven from things like wars, persecution or poverty face. Imagine how bad it must be at home for people to make the decision to trek across dangerous terrane or bodies of water to get to someplace safer for them and their families. People in such situations are referred to as refugees or immigrants, words that increasingly carry a negative connotation.

Negative attitudes towards refugees and immigrants go against, not only American beliefs, but also against religious traditions, which all teach to welcome the stranger.

Our natural inclination is to be welcoming and helpful, but sometimes a little voice creeps up whispering things like “Those people are a danger!”, “They will sap your resources!”, “They are too different!”, etc. Muslims believe that your first, positive inclinations are what God has planted in you, but those negative whispers come from Satan.

If we keep in mind that refugees and immigrants, like hurricane evacuees, only leave their homes when they have no alternative, it may be easier to ignore those negative whispers and fulfil our natural inclinations to be welcoming.

Welcoming America, an organization launched in 2009, is helping communities do just that. From their website: “Welcoming America is leading a movement of inclusive communities becoming more prosperous by making everyone who lives there know they belong. Welcoming America believes that all people, including immigrants, are valued contributors and vital to the success of both our communities and our shared future.”

One of their efforts is Welcoming Week, “an annual series of events hosted by communities to bring together immigrants, refugees, and native-born residents to raise awareness of the benefits of welcoming everyone.”

This year Welcoming Week is from Sept 15th-24th. In 2016 there we nearly 400 events in 150 communities with more than 50,000 people participating.

With all that’s been going on lately, it’s more important than ever to demonstrate what it is to be welcoming. Take advantage of this week and participate in activities already planned (find one here, www.WelcomingWeek.org scroll to the bottom of the page and enter your zip code), or plan an event of your own.

Follow your God given inclination to be welcoming to all newcomers.

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