Every year, I try to participate in MLK’s Day of Service. Today, I helped package rice for newly arrived refugees at a Lutheran church and resettlement agency. It brought back memories of decades ago when church and family members showed us the same hospitality and love. My family came to this country fleeing war and persecution. Having experienced and lost so much – their lands, homes, and family members – many were afraid and unsure of the future. But when they were greeted with open arms and given the basic necessities to start a new life, it helped ease their uncertainties and trauma. I believe this is the message Dr. King was trying to relay, to help those who are suffering and to love everyone regardless of where they come from. This is how the “founding fathers” were treated by the indigenous peoples of America when they were fleeing Europe. This is how Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were treated when they fled to Egypt from Herod. This is how the Prophet Muhammad was treated when he fled Mecca in 622, and was protected by a Christian king in present-day Ethiopia/Eritrea. Which is why all of the hate around the world today against refugees – from Syria, Iraq, or any other Muslim country – is unacceptable and only perpetuates the injustices to which Dr. King fought so hard against.
We heard from a panel that included the pastor of the church, an imam from a local mosque, a resettlement volunteer coordinator, and a young Somali refugee woman. It was a powerful and candid conversation. People in the audience testified about speaking out against family members and neighbors who are still part of the KKK today, despite fears of being targeted. Others admitted their own biases against Muslims, and acknowledged their ignorance and lack of knowledge about the religion and culture. There were people both young and old, and from all cultures and backgrounds in the sanctuary. It made my heart full that people were genuinely trying to forge better understanding, and learn what can be done to be more open and welcoming towards others, especially refugees, asylees, and immigrants. There is much more to be done, but at least there are people out there still willing to speak truth and love.