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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Let's Make America Welcoming Again

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The Daily News-Record published the following piece on its editorial page today.

Among other things, Christmas is a story about homeless and travel weary asylum seekers. 

According to Luke’s gospel, a Middle Easterner and his pregnant young wife are compelled to take a weeklong journey to Bethlehem due to an imperial order. Upon their arrival, the refugee couple is met with rejection rather than finding accommodations and welcome in their time of need.

As if this weren’t enough, the couple is then forced to undertake an even longer journey, this time through a desert and with an infant child, in order to escape King Herod’s “slaughter of the innocents” and to find temporary safe haven in Egypt.

Thus the holiday season reminds us that God, in the guise of needy sojourners, continues to seek refuge and welcome in an inhospitable world. Advent is a good time to remember that in caring for the migrant, the stranger, the undocumented and the desperate, we are embodying the spirit of the Leviticus text which says, “You shall treat the strangers who sojourn with you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Currently, around 15 percent of Harrisonburg’s population is foreign-born, and the number of languages spoken in the city now approaches 50. Local first generation immigrants work hard every day as vital tax-paying members of our community, with an impressive number of them entrepreneurs whose businesses benefit our diverse economy.

At its August 24, 2016, meeting, the Harrisonburg City Council unanimously agreed to join the national “Welcoming America” initiative as supported by Faith In Action, an interfaith coalition of congregations in the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. In doing so, the Friendly City joined some 70 other jurisdictions, including nearby Roanoke, in officially welcoming worthy immigrants, moving here by choice, and needy refugees, driven from their homes due to persecution or war.

A Welcoming America City or County is one which:

Plans: All relevant sectors, such as government, business, nonprofit, and others, work together to create a welcoming community climate that supports long-term integration.

Commits: Municipalities commit to institutionalize strategies ensuring the ongoing inclusion and long-term economic and social integration of newcomers.

Builds Community: Newcomers and long-time residents find common ground and shared leadership.

Communicates: Messages of unity and shared values permeate the community through the media, through the voices of leaders, and among residents.

Sustains: Policies and practices are considered to ensure interactions between new and longtime residents remain positive ones and the community’s economic vitality remains strong.

I continue to hope that the County Board of Supervisors, for years blessed with an outstanding Cuban immigrant as its chairman, will join the growing number of congregations in the city and county extending this kind of welcome.

Amid growing reports of anti-Hispanic, anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant sentiments causing fear and insecurity among children and adults everywhere, we should all, individuals, congregations and public entities together, join in the ageless song of ‘peace on earth and goodwill toward all.’

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If you wish to support the County becoming a part of the Welcoming America initiative, you may contact the current members of the Board of Supervisors:

Mike Breeden, District 5, mbreeden@rockinghamcountyva.gov (chair)
William Kyger, Jr. District 4, bkyger@rockinghamcountyva.gov (vice chair)
Pablo Cuevas, District 1, pcuevas@rockinghamcountyva.gov 
Fred Eberly, District 2, feberly@rockinghamcountyva.gov 
Rick Chandler, District 3, rchandler@rockinghamcountyva.gov
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