There are many cross-cultural church resources and missiological articles that talk about the idea of people blindness. This is quite simply the majority Christian population in a community being blind/visually impaired to the people and variety of cultures that live in their surrounding neighborhood. It is a proven reality that the closer in proximity that we are to someone or something, the less we value their importance.
This month poses a real challenge in our community as scores of new refugees and immigrants move in. It is my observation that the majority of people and churches who “see” the variety of nations coexisting in our neighborhood are generally people who live 30-45 minutes from here. The majority population, namely the majority Christian population, by and large remains blind to the variety of peoples in their community and surrounding communities. Obviously, there is a ripple effect here as a suburban church who faces all together different realities in their context is left to grapple with the needs of refugees and immigrants 45 minutes from their home.
Here are some of my observations as churches and volunteers seek to make a difference and not be blind to these things. I pray the urban and suburban church can gain something from my thoughts.
Mandated from Jesus to “Love our neighbor as ourselves” (Mark 12:30-31), I have delineated four types of neighbors I have seen in the St. Paul/Minneapolis metro.
1. The far-sighted neighbor
I would define these folks as extremely well intentioned, who have a soft heart to welcome and love refugees new to an urban community. They tend to live quite a distance from the urban, impoverished community where many refugees are resettled, yet give as much of their time and resources as they can. “Seeing” their new neighbor would at best happen about once a week with periodic visits where they bring gifts, offer services, or take their refugee neighbor outside of their community back to their home in the burbs. They have wonderful hearts but clearly live in a different world than the new American. Well intentioned, but far-sighted.
2. The near-sighted neighbor
These are people who live within the community (or in close proximity) where refugees and immigrants have resettled. They are somewhat aware of the diversity because every time they go to the local grocery store they see different ethnicities. When they “see” their immigrant neighbor on the sidewalk or across the street, they wave or nod their head. Some near-sighted neighbors really want to know their refugee neighbors but don’t know where to begin; others are simply impaired and the thought of accessing and befriending a new American hasn’t entered their minds. Regardless of their posture, there is little to no engagement and they keep refugees at an arms length. Minnesota-nice, cordial, but near-sighted.
3. The blind neighbor
This person might live within the neighborhood of refugees or a suburb 10-45 minutes away, but they don’t see refuges. They may notice that there is a little bit of diversity in their metro area, but they don’t value the lives of their new neighbors. They have rarely if ever considered how to enter the life of an immigrant or refugee and have little knowledge or understating of any world outside their small sphere.
4. The sighted neighbor
These are the neighbors that live in a community of immigrants and refugees who have deliberately chosen to be engaged. They spend time with their neighbors, invite them over for dinner, and go places together. They know their names. They’ve heard their stories. Because they are sighted and often from the host culture, they can often act as a guide in their first several months and years in a new country. The relationship is a two way street where they are continually engaged.
This idea of blindness and people blindness is very close to my heart for a variety of reasons. Obviously, I spend my entire day, and often many evenings, hanging out, loving, and hearing the frustrations and joys of my new American neighbors. It is the cry of my heart to see them treated with dignity, compassion, and for them to understand the reality of Christ. Further, the topic of people blindness stirs me because of my first-hand experience of being physically blind. Most of you know I am legally blind, having less than 12 degrees of peripheral vision (most people have 180 degrees) and having absolutely no sight in the dark. My central vision continues to fade. I am, by legal standards, blind, yet I see so clearly why we could tend to retreat from the influx of refugees in our communities.
Being Blind and Visually Impaired
So these two things, blindness and refugees, have heightened my awareness. The funny thing about being blind is that you only know you’re blind when an outside force or situation tells you so. When you bump into someone who was directly in front of you, for example, that is a fair indication that something is wrong. But I can spend many days, even months, not remembering that I’m blind. So it is with neighbors who are blind, far-sighted, and near-sighted. It’s difficult to know your eye condition until you go to a doctor.
To go on, when a person is blind and visually impaired they typically don’t want to go to the eye doctor. It is often discouraging to have an ophthalmologist tell you that you are losing more and more of your sight. I haven’t been to the eye doctor in over two years though it is recommended that I check up every few months. Christians who know the good they ought to do but don’t do it aren’t all to interested in having their sight restored. Even when those “bumping into people moments” happen, recognizing they’re blind, people blind Christians can easily suppress the truth and remain in their little bubble. Many blind people are very bitter and self-centered (a horrible stereotype I realize). Yet I see this comparison so clearly in the lives of people blind Christians. Money, self-sufficiency, pleasure, comfort – that is the rally cry of people blind Christians.
What is the remedy?
Thankfully, people blindness does have a cure. A good start is prayer and looking at the scores of Scriptures that talk about God’s heart for the foreigner, alien, and orphan. It is hard to dodge those Scriptures, as they permeate the Bible. Next, I think we just have to open our eyes. Drive into neighborhoods in which we don’t necessarily want to be. If you’re living in a diverse area, perhaps you could talk to a refugee resettling agency (I recommend World Relief MN around here!) and ask them to connect you with those in your community. It can be a powerful entrance point to meet someone at the airport and become the first person in a new country that they’ve ever met.
Get some courage. It is not like the Lord has called us into the world to fail or be zapped of power. In fact it was the Spirit’s empowerment in Acts 2 and Acts 10 that jolted a pretty prejudiced band of disciples into crossing cultural barriers and making disciples of all nations. It is this courage that will lead us on. All the training in the world will never be a substitute for Spirit infused courage, walking up to a refugee, and starting a conversation. Many of our new American neighbors are the friendliest people on earth. Let’s not be blind.
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
I have listed these before in a previous blog, but here is something to get your heart moving in the right direction. “What the Bible Says About Refugees”
Genesis 3:22-24 Adam and Eve uprooted from the garden and forced out
Genesis 12:1 Abraham, called to leave his home and go to a new land
Genesis 23:4 Abraham looks for a burial place for Sarah in a strange land
Genesis 37-46 Joseph sold into slavery in a strange land
Exodus 2:15-22 Moses as a guest in Midian
Deuteronomy 6:10-12 Remember, you were once sojourners
Deuteronomy 26:5 Remember, a wandering Aramean was my father
I Samuel 23-24 David, like refugees, hides in the wilderness to escape death
I Chronicles 29:14-15 All things come from God and we are all transient on earth
Psalm 105 History of the migration of God’s people
Psalm 137 How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
Matthew 2:19-21 Jesus and his parents flee to Egypt to escape persecution
Matthew 8:20 Son of Man has no where to lay his head
Luke 2:7 No room at the inn
Acts The story of God’s missionaries to foreigners
Acts 7 History of wandering of Abraham, Joseph and Moses
Genesis 18:1-8 Abraham as host at Mamre
Genesis 19:1-3 Abraham as host at Sodom
Exodus 22:21 Remember to treat foreigners well
Exodus 23:9 Remember to treat foreigners well
Leviticus 19:32-34 The alien who resides with you is as the citizen
Numbers 35 Cities of refuge
Deuteronomy 27:19 Curse those who deny hospitality
Joshua 20:1-3 Cities of refuge
Joshua 21:13-38 Cities of refuge
Ruth 2 Boaz receives Ruth
Job 31:32 Job takes in travelers
Psalms 61:1-3 God is our ultimate place of refuge
Luke 10:38-42 Jesus as a guest of Mary and Martha
Luke 19:1-9 Jesus as a guest of Zacchaeus
Luke 24:28-3 Jesus as a guest of the disciples on the Emmaus road
John 19:25-27 John takes Mary home with him after the crucifixion
Romans 12:13 Practice hospitality
Ephesians 2:11-22 No longer are we strangers and sojourners
Hebrews 13:1-2 Those who have welcomed strangers have discovered angels
Meeting Human Need:
Leviticus 19:9-17 Rules for justice toward our neighbors
Leviticus 25 Jubilee year of forgiveness of debts
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 Food, clothing, love for sojourner, orphan
Deuteronomy 15:1-18 Seven-year release from debts
Deuteronomy 24:17-22 Leave gleanings for widow, orphan, sojourner
Psalm 9:7-12, 18 God forgets not the afflicted, the needy
Psalm 107 God is wonderful to poor, hungry, thirsty
Psalm 146 Justice for oppressed, prisoner freed
Psalm 147:1-6 God uplifts downtrodden, heals brokenhearted
Proverbs 14:31 To oppress a poor man insults the maker
Proverbs 22:8-9, 16 Sow injustice, reap calamity; be generous, be blessed
Proverbs 31:8-9 Speak for those who cannot speak for selves
Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do good, seek justice, etc.
Isaiah 58:6-9 God prefers service over fasting
Isaiah 61:1-3 Prisoner freed, justice for oppressed, etc.
Jeremiah 7:5-7 Justice will be rewarded
Jeremiah 22:3-4 Don’t mistreat/cheat orphan, widow, sojourner
Malachi 3:5 Condemns employers cheating foreigners
Matthew 25:35-46 When you did it to the least you did it to Jesus
Luke 1:46-55 Exalted those of low degree
Luke 4:14-21 Jesus brings good news to poor and release to captives
Luke 10:25-37 Good Samaritan help man at side of road
Luke 14:12-24 Get dinner guests from highways and byways
Luke 18:18-22 Rich ruler, sell all, give to poor
Romans 12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers
II Corinthians 8:13-14 Share your abundance
James 2:5-9,15-17 Faith without works is dead
I John 3:14-18 Showing God’s love in action
I John 4:7-21 God loves us and consequently we should love one another
Struggling with Obedience to Authority:
Exodus 1:15-22 Hebrew midwives refuse Pharaoh’s order to kill baby boys
Exodus 23:9 Oppressing an alien is a violation of God’s law
Deuteronomy 29:10-29 The Covenant leaves no room for worship of gods of other nations
Jeremiah 22:3-5 Doing wrong to an alien is a violation of God’s law
Daniel 3 Three youth thrown in fiery furnace for refusal to worship statue
Daniel 6 Daniel thrown in lion’s den for refusal to pray to the king
Esther 4-8 Esther broke law to plead for people’s safety before the king
Matthew 22:15-22 Paying taxes and yet giving to God what is of God
Matthew 28:18 All authority in heaven and on earth is given to Jesus
John 19:10-11 Pilot had power to crucify Jesus because it was given from above
Acts 4:13-22 Peter and John defend their faith before the authorities
Acts 5:29 Apostles refused council’s order to stop speaking about Jesus
Romans 13:1-7 Christians must respect the rights of the state
Ephesians 1:20-23 God put Christ over all in authority, power, and dominion
Titus 3:1-2 Be subject to rulers and authorities
I Peter 2:13-17 Accept the authority of human institutions
Revelation 13 The government gives its authority over to the beast instead of God