Sunday, May 26, 2024

Valley Neighbors is ‘caring for the strangers in our midst’

| May 12, 2024 12:00 AM

The intensity of the local debate over immigration and refugee support has taken a dark turn in the past week. As representatives of faith communities across the Flathead Valley, we want to counsel the community to engage in charity, compassion and active dialogue rather than accusations and misinformation.

We the undersigned represent multiple religious communities, different political affiliations and unified support for Valley Neighbors, which is composed of dedicated, charitable individuals who are sincerely trying to care for their fellow human beings.

First, we ask for charity and understanding toward the individuals and families whose lives are most affected. We speak of those who recently arrived in our community from faraway places. Most likely the family who recently arrived knew very little about Northwest Montana prior to their arrival. We can only imagine how scary and unsettling this must be for them.

Can you imagine having to leave your home to travel to a place you know nothing about, try to re-establish your life and provide an optimistic future for your family?  

It can be an easy thing to say a person, or an entire family, should be deported. However, it is a much more complex matter in practice. What if a person’s home country will not allow them back? What if a person left their home country due to threatened or real violence or abuse?

While we do not know what brought someone to our community or where they will make a home, we should all treat that family with dignity and respect while the details are sorted out. 

In fact, the commandment to care for “the stranger in our midst” is mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures more than any other commandment — 37 times. In Leviticus 19:34: “The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens … for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” In Exodus 22:21: “you shall not wrong or oppress the stranger,” and in Deuteronomy 10:19: “love the foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.”

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to his followers, saying, “I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me” (Matthew 25:35 and 40). 

It seems clear that if Jesus were a current resident of the Flathead Valley, and a new immigrant family arrived unexpectedly, he would spend the first day of their arrival bringing food, water, clothing, blankets and love. He would not spend the day questioning their legal status. 

Valley Neighbors is living out this sacred mission and many of our congregations partner with them in caring for the strangers in our midst. They truly exemplify the “good Samaritan” as in the Gospel of Luke.

We strongly assert that Valley Neighbors is not a political organization. They are not a “dark money” organization as asserted by our congressional representative. They are a group of charitable people who are poorly funded, have more work to accomplish than anyone ever could and yet persevere in doing good. 

Before any of us rush to evaluate Valley Neighbors, or any communal organization, we should at least make the effort to learn about each other by engaging in civil conversation. Only with respectful dialogue will our community find a legal, compassionate path forward.

If you want to learn more about Valley Neighbors, please invite someone from their group to coffee, or lunch, or a community gathering. They will be happy to share their mission and experiences. We know Valley Neighbors will accept help from anyone who shares the goal of improving other people’s lives and strengthening our community.

In the Gospel of John, Chapter 1, we read about a man named Nathanael who was skeptical about Jesus.  He asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Some in our community may wonder if anything good can come out of a nonprofit group whose goal is to help refugees.

We echo Philip in our response: “Come and see!”

Rev. Morie Adams-Griffin, Whitefish United Methodist Church, Whitefish; The Board, Glacier Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Kalispell; Marc Bunker, Bigfork, Verne Reed, Kalispell, Kyle Tubbs, Whitefish–Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Pastor Chad Ewing, Epworth United Methodist Church, Kalispell; Al Jensen, Director of Pastoral Care, Immanuel Living, Kalispell; Fr. Charlie Knuth, All Saints Episcopal Church, Columbia Falls; The Rev. Sadie Koppelberger, Christ Church Episcopal, Kalispell; Rev. Miriam Mauritzen, Mountain View Mennonite Church, Kalispell; Pastor Wendy Ochs, Bigfork; Rev. David H. Rommereim, ELCA Lutheran retired, Whitefish; Rabbi Francine Roston, Whitefish; Mr Robert Schrock, Mountainview Mennonite Church, Creston; Rev. Carol Seilhymer, Northridge Lutheran Church, Kalispell; Rabbi Jessica Shimberg, Glacier Jewish Community, Flathead Valley; Rev. Jared Stine, Columbia Falls UMC, Columbia Falls; Rev. Scott Thompson, Bethlehem, Kalispell.