Welcoming and Caring for the Stranger
Oct 14, 2019
By The Rev. Marvin Henk, pastor at St John's Lutheran Church, Mamaroneck
Even before the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee declared itself the first denomination in America to be a “sanctuary church,” our church was already committed to being a place of support and compassion for refugees and immigrants in our Westchester community.
Partnering with a local nonprofit called Hearts & Homes for Refugees, our congregation began taking on families and individuals who fled to the United States seeking safety. It began in 2018 with a young woman from Gambia and a survivor of female genital mutilation who was granted asylum in the United States. Only here a short time and without any family, this young woman was studying at a local community college to become an OB/GYN in order to help other women. The church provided her with money for clothing, a monthly train pass, a laptop, and assisted her in finding a job. She was accepted to a four-year college and we were able to also contribute towards books.
Shortly after, a family from Honduras was reunited with their mother and needed support to take care of a sibling with hearing impairment and a learning disability. The church aided this family with household items, and support for food and groceries.
Most recently, we partnered with the refugee resettlement organization HIAS to assist a young man from Afghanistan who was a mechanic working for the U.S. Army and had to leave the country for his safety. He came to this country with a knee injury and the congregation has made a six-month commitment to this young man, providing not only financial support but also helping him navigate the healthcare system and assist with his English as he’s been eager to improve it. He’s now working in the community and will begin taking more advanced language classes at a local college this fall.
In addition to supporting individual cases, St. John’s has worked hard to be a place of education and awareness. Over the last year the church has hosted events, film screenings, adult forums, and special prayers on this issue and brought local community leaders and members together to discuss how our community at large can make not only the church, but the whole county a place that welcomes the stranger.
The ELCA calls for “prophetic action,” and we know that the stranger is Jesus in disguise. For Christ says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
For more information about this ministry of St. John's Lutheran Church, Mamaroneck, send an email to [email protected].