by Dwayne Henne, Chair of Outreach, Bally Mennonite Church
Members of Bally Mennonite Church had a growing interest in how area churches might be able to support refugees coming to the United States as they continued to see on the daily news the suffering of people in Syria and Sudan. As they began to explore this topic, it evolved into concerns about divisions in the United States over racism and immigration. The church then decided to order a huge sign, the design initiated by Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg VA, to be displayed along Route 100. The sign states in Spanish, English and Arabic: “No matter where you are from, we are glad that you are our neighbor.”
The “Welcome Your Neighbors” signs were the brain child of Matthew Butcher, pastor at Immanuel Mennonite Church. He reached out to an artist in his congregation, Melissa Howard, to create the sign with the phrase in English, Spanish and Arabic after a growing concern regarding the rhetoric in the United States during the 2015 presidential primaries. Numerous individuals and congregations from across the United States and Canada have begun printing the now tri-color signs, with the graphic available for download on the Welcome Your Neighbors website. The signs and the people who have posted them have had such a positive impact that they have gained media coverage by outlets such as NPR and the Huffington Post. Butcher was quoted in The Mennonite as saying, “I think it’s a symbol for people of how they want to live, and I think it’s been a point of comfort for people seeing it.”
Earlier this year, two days after the White House Executive orders about immigration and refugee resettlement, the large Welcome Your Neighbors sign ordered by Bally Mennonite Church arrived, and with the ironic timing, was installed.
Over the past month, people have contacted the church expressing appreciation for the sign; one person said that her daughter participated in the airport demonstrations. Another is a pastor of a Boyertown area church; yet another, a Muslim man who came into the church one day, identified himself as having moved to the United States from Palestine. The Welcome Your Neighbors Facebook page has testimonies of folks receiving flowers on their doorsteps with a card in Arabic and English, expressing gratitude for the signs.
While Bally is grateful for the appreciation of the sign, the congregation would also be welcoming to concerns about it, for division in our community needs conversations whereby the parties listen to one another and seek to understand the other person’s perspective. The Bible says to love your neighbor as yourself (no matter where your neighbor is from, and no matter what their opinions may be). May these signs not only express welcome but an invitation to dialogue.