I must admit that I am not the most outgoing kind of person. I have gone through most of my life trying to leave as little trace of my presence as possible. I drive my car with the intent of not causing other drivers to have to change lanes or brake. I am the same way in most public settings. I seek to draw as little attention as possible. I don’t speak to strangers. I rarely make eye contact with them. I even dress not to draw attention. I have been content with my circle of friends. I read an article a few years ago from the UNCHR, The UN Refugee Agency that talked about welcoming the stranger. I liked the article and even put it n my personal website but until this week it didn’t register with me. I failed to connect the point of the article with my personal behavior. This week the light came on. What appears below is not verbatim. I modified it mostly for length. I think I kept its message. I hope I am able to step out of my comfort zone and be the kind of person this encourages me to be.
Compassion, mercy, love, and hospitality are for everyone: the native born and the foreigner, the members of the community and the newcomer. We are all considered “strangers” somewhere but let us commit to not permit that place be in our presence. When strangers cross your path, welcome them, give them your smile. Treat the stranger to your community as you would like to be treated when you are new to a community.
No one leaves their homeland without a reason. Some flee because of persecution or violence or exploitation. Some leave their homeland because of natural disaster. Some come to our community out of love to provide a better life for their family. Some may just be visiting. Regardless of why they are among us, welcome them with open arms and an open heart.
Acknowledge that while welcoming the stranger can be is risky and takes courage but remember the joys and the hopes of doing so outweigh the challenges. Recognize that all persons are entitled to dignity and respect as human beings. All those in our community and our country, including the stranger, while subject to our laws, none should be subject to hostility or discrimination.
Respect and honor the reality that the stranger may be of a different faith or hold beliefs different than yours or your community. Respect the right of the stranger to practice their own faith freely. Build bridges between the stranger and yourself. Through example, encourage others to do the same. Make an effort to not only welcome the stranger but also to listen to them, to understand them. Let differences between you and strangers be enlightening to you, enrichening your life and experiences.
Speak out for social justice for the stranger as you would for those already within your life. Stand up against hostility toward the stranger through your words and deeds. Do not keep silent when seeing others, even leaders in society when they speak ill of strangers or when pre-judging them. Don’t let the stranger be excluded or wronged or oppressed. Encourage those around you to welcome the stranger.
Understand that when a stranger enters your sphere, there are two strangers, you are a stranger too. You have a choice. Don’t remain a stranger. Don’t allow others to remain strangers. Both of your lives will be enriched if you make the right choice, if you take positive action. It will be difficult during this pandemic but you can find a way. It will be worth your effort.
Strangers are friends just waiting to happen.
Dick Gale, President
Democrats of Hemet-San Jacinto
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