It is hard to fully grasp the journey God has taken me on over the past year. I entered into a new arena; ministry in my own backyard. The idea is simple, at least it appears to be: love thy neighbor. We can see it in the Old Testament through the many laws and the Ten Commandments, as well as in the New Testament through parables, and most notably, in Jesus.
What I did not realize is how much of a transformation my own heart needed to go through in learning to love my neighbor. When Katie and I felt called to focus on our refugee neighbors, it brought concerns and even guilt: what is a refugee? It put pressure on this trigger in me that I had never explored before; fear in learning who my neighbor is. More specifically, exposing the fear that I had in who my refugee neighbors are and why are they in my city.
As we were pondering the idea of starting Hope In Our City and working with refugees, I got cold feet. Deep down, I thought I was supposed to be concerned refugees were here and worried about their effect on our morality and security.
However, the Spirit of God was too strong and I surrendered to His guidance. With true fear and trembling, I began to ask God to show me what to do. How do I begin to love my refugee neighbor when I am not sure how I feel about them being here in the first place?
Before God revealed how to build our organization, He took me through a humbling and refining process to prepare my heart to love my neighbor. He showed me His heart should take precedence over my political views. He reminded me that fear and trembling are reserved for Him, not my neighbors. He walked me through dozens of passages in the Old and New Testament where He poured out His love for the stranger, the foreigner and the alien.
Zechariah 7:9-12 says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Render true judgements, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.’ But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts.”
How had I missed this? How had I not seen that God cares for the foreigner as He does the widow and orphan?
Over the next few weeks and months God introduced me to my neighbors, Somali Muslims living a few miles from my house. Every week I would arrive with fear in my heart. I could have been afraid of walking into the projects and one of the poorest areas in all of Denver. However, I was afraid of the unknown.
One boy, aged 11, was upset because I didn’t remember his name the second time I met him. Now he runs up to me and gives me a big hug each time he sees me. A teenage boy continually asked me for months if this was our last week with them, or when my community service was going to end. One dad would stand and watch his kids play during our Friday Recess. When we asked him to join our soccer game his eyes lit up and he excitedly joined. These children and adults are just like the rest of us. They want to fit in and be accepted. They want to be known.
History, recent history, shows the negative consequences society reaps when vulnerable children and adults become disengaged from healthy community. This happens when they are not known. I have the opportunity to prevent this from happening in my city. I can let love trump fear and help engage my neighbor.
Over the course of a year, we have met 164 kids and gotten to know dozens of families. I no longer have fear and trembling toward my neighbors. I have felt their love, experienced their hospitality and enjoyed their company. I have seen how showing God’s love for them has already begun to impact their lives.
Will you join us in loving our neighbors and helping refugees engage with society? Please consider a year-end donation to help us foster healthy community in refugee neighborhoods.
Through God’s Grace,
Co-Founder and CEO