In just the next six months, approximately 1,169 Afghan refugees will be resettled to North Carolina, including the city of Durham.
For many in North Carolina, that may seem like a big change. But North Carolina has a rich history of diversity; as of this year, immigrant residents make up about 8.2 percent of North Carolina’s population. In Durham, that number is even higher, with 14.2 percent of the population being foreign born.
Growing up in Shelby in the 1980s—with North Carolina roots going back at least to the 18th century—I did not have much opportunity to live and play with people who were born somewhere other than the United States. To be honest, most everyone I knew was born and raised in western North Carolina.
But when I came to the Triangle as a freshman at N.C. State in 1993, I began to meet people who had roots in places all over the world. I met these people in classes, at work, and in my local church community. My relationships with international visitors and immigrant families have added rich layers to my North Carolina life.
Now, after nearly 30 years in the Triangle, this North Carolina gal has had friends from almost every continent, and I have served alongside many immigrant brothers and sisters—some of whom are undocumented—in local churches. Most recently I have been welcomed into a body of fellow Christians who were born in various nations in Central America. I’ve watched these men and women juggle long days of work and community service, and they’ve inspired me to follow their example and better serve my neighbors.
Through their efforts, this group has repeatedly provided groceries to well over 100 families in the last year, helping relieve some of the burdens caused by the pandemic. They are serving not only other immigrant families but families who have had roots in the United States for generations. These loving and hardworking men and women give selflessly, and it is an honor to partner with them. They exhibit the value of service that I was taught as a child in Cleveland County so many years ago. I believe that these friends and co-laborers—some of whom have now lived in North Carolina for years—should be able to earn a path to permanent residency.
This conviction comes from my own experience not only as an established North Carolinian but as a pastor and follower of Christ. Though my family roots are well grounded in North Carolina, my spiritual roots are grounded in the Christian Bible. From the lived example of Jesus and the witness of the whole of scripture that points to him, we find his call to care for and take up the cause of the immigrant. From the time of Abraham the sojourner, Joseph the slave, and Moses the exile, we see people who placed their faith in the God of the Bible and found themselves to be strangers and aliens in their societies.
The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians that the Gentile Christians were like foreigners who had been brought into citizenship in God’s kingdom. Like the early Christians of Ephesus, all who claim the name of Christ were once strangers to him and to each other but now have a place and purpose in God.
Therefore, Christians are called to continue this work of Christ, bringing others to spiritual citizenship. Welcoming the stranger, the alien, the immigrant into our lives, including our society, our country, and our state, is an outworking of our faith. As our Lord’s brother wrote, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:6 ESV).
My prayer is for Triangle and Durham residents to welcome all our neighbors. You can make a difference right now in the lives of immigrant and American-born neighbors by supporting the work of nonprofits like House of Mercy, which distributes food and clothing weekly in Durham, and local resettlement agencies preparing to resettle Afghan refugees across North Carolina.
Meanwhile, we can advocate for our neighbors. Senator Tillis and Senator Burr: Would you lead us in welcoming immigrants by sponsoring and supporting bipartisan legislative solutions for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status recipients, and essential workers?
Senators and fellow North Carolinians, let us welcome these immigrants to see our state enriched and to follow the biblical examples of welcoming the stranger by more fully inviting these immigrants into our society.
Dana Williams is a pastor and the pastoral care director at King’s Park International Church in Durham.
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