Welcome the Stranger

Feed the Hungry, Speak for the Silent Ones

by Jeanine Elliott

With halting words, she said she wanted to learn English. To say anything more about herself would take more words than she had. I had none of the words that would make her feel at home. What I could say was, “Yes, we can help you learn English.” Did she understand me? She is brave and courageous, moving into a community where it may take several years before she can tell her story to her new neighbors, the English-speaking folk. There is a sparkle in her eye, and I suspect a wicked wit will eventually show itself in her new language.

The seven-year-old girl stands in front of the Food Cupboard and chooses a pudding mix because “my brother would like this.” Probably she would like it, too, but she has already learned not to ask too much for herself. Her mother, a bit embarrassed, says, “This is my first time here. What do I do?” She, too, looks as if she has a hard time asking for herself.

A young man with backpack and bike and no address stops by to report that he won’t be picking up his Care to Share food supply on this day. He is riding to Hillsboro and doesn’t want to carry the load. He accepts some granola bars, juice boxes and apples. He offers to help a couple on foot who are loaded down with cloth shopping bags filled with groceries from the Food Cupboard. He says he will return to pick up his own share.

It is a time of economic fear.  The safety net that has provided for the hungry and the poor is stretched thin; people who have never had to seek help outside of their own labor can find no labor. One-sixth of our population is living in poverty.  Some people, wary of “outsiders,” have become more fearful; they are unsure of how to protect themselves and their “own” from threats they perceive around them.  The threads that bind us are fraying.

 Christian congregations and other communities of faith will be called on to provide more basic services to people struggling to provide for themselves and their families.  It will still not be enough. Christian and other communities of faith open their hearts and doors to those who find themselves strangers among us, because of language, culture, race, disability, homelessness.  It is not enough.  Fear and hate riffle just below the surface of the connections of our everyday lives.

  “I pick up food items from the grocery store for our Food Cupboard, I volunteer at Habitat as often as I can, I share in the meal preparation for the homeless, I raise money to support the church’s service projects, but it seems to not make much of a dent in the problems we face,” said a member of our congregation during a recent Sunday morning study group.  In a troubled time, what more can we do as a community of faith?  We will continue to serve those who are strangers and those who are hungry.  It’s not enough, but it is what we know we can do.  What more needs to be done?   We can speak for the strangers who may be maligned by those who do not like or understand them.   We can practice being the voices of those who are unheard.  We can become more public, more prophetic about the pain we see around us. We can witness to the fragility of the ties that bind us.

 Jeanine Elliott is a member of Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ in Beaverton, OR.  Bethel supports an extensive English as a Second Language program, a Food Cupboard, Habitat for Humanity, meals for the Men’s Transition Project, and homeless youth in Beaverton

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