By Adam McDuffie
As I write this, I am exhausted.
This was a long day in a week of long days. Finishing a full load of classes just to rush off to the airport and stand anxiously waiting for hours, I felt exhausted. Then I got a jolt of perspective. I woke up in my bed, in a town where I’m surrounded by people who speak the same language as I do, where I feel safe. Tonight, I’ll lay down in that same bed with the certainty that I’ll wake up tomorrow in an environment that is familiar to me. We aren’t all so lucky.
Why was I at the airport? I was there with a group from my church, Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., welcoming a refugee family from Afghanistan which we sponsored to relocate to the United States with the assistance of the International Rescue Committee.
This family endured days of traveling, navigating delays and flight changes along the way. They most recently had sat through a fifteen hour flight from Qatar to Atlanta, with two young children in tow, only to then have to stand in line for two more hours as they waited to pass through customs. Yet they emerged from the terminal with smiles on their faces and took the time to thank each one of us just for being there and being supportive. After all this effort to reach the U.S. from Afghanistan, now this family has the chance to see what life in America is really like. I wonder what their first impressions will be?
I’d like to think that our small band waiting to receive them at the airport may have helped in some way. They certainly appeared grateful to receive such a welcome. But, what comes next?
Turning on the news or perusing social media reveals a starkly divided and less than welcoming America. Recent polling has shown that their new home is evenly split over whether or not to even allow refugees into this country at all. And now, in the midst of all this, this family faces the challenge of adjusting to a new society that is becoming increasingly insular.
This family is relatively lucky. The parents speak English fluently, and they have friends living in Atlanta. Even still, I couldn’t imagine the challenges and fears they continue to face as they adjust. I can’t even begin to imagine how much more terrifying it must be for those refugees coming into this situation without even knowing the language, and with no warm crowds to meet them. What is our country showing these people right now?
In scripture, we see various riffs on the theme of the Israelites being told to welcome the sojourner, because they were once sojourners in Egypt. Perhaps if we were to adapt Exodus 23:9 in a way which would speak to Americans, it might read something along the lines of “Don’t mistreat immigrants; you should be able to be sensitive to the trials they face, because you are a nation of immigrants.” These are people. These are individuals and families bearing the image of God, just like any one of us.
We, as Americans, claim to be welcoming. Perhaps it’s time we act like it.
We, as Christians, claim to love all unconditionally, maybe it’s time we lead the way and show our nation what it means to be there for the least of these, our brothers and our sisters, regardless of nationality or faith.
Adam McDuffie is a second year M.Div. student at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He currently serves as the congregational intern at Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur, GA.