Welcome the Stranger

On Sunday June 11th we participated in a TrueCity project called “Welcome the Stranger.” The idea was to get churches in the TrueCity network to talk/think/pray on the same day about welcoming and supporting Newcomers into our city. There is something profound to everyone tackling the same topic at the same time. It is an act of solidarity not just with the other TrueCity churches but also with newcomers in Hamilton and refugees around the world still waiting for a safe place to live.

Here are some of the resources The Commons used:

We opened our Gathering with a video from the Hamilton Immigrants Working Centre (IWC):

Susan Neudorf shared some stories of volunteering at Prince of Wales School in a class with a number of Newcomer students. She talked about how these kids are the first Muslims that she has had a relationship with. She tries to help them with their English and is very thankful for Google Translate.  As they get closer to the end of the school year Susan has been teaching the kids some board games and card games. Some of the kids have talked about their parents having a hard time learning English because they don’t get to spend all day at school.

As I was researching for our Welcome the Stranger gathering, most of the information I found focused on the Refugee Highway, facts and figures and reasons people have become Refugees. It seemed like a lot of the info was focused on convincing people that this is an important Justice issue. As a church that is in the middle of a Refugee Sponsorship we thought that most of our people were already convinced of the importance of getting involved, so we focused our time differently.

We named that the biblical story is a Story of Refugees & Newcomers. The Jewish people were told by God in Deuteronomy 10:19 to “…love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Jesus and his parents were also refugees, fleeing for their lives back to Egypt. God’s story is tied to the story of those who have no home.

We gave an update on where our own refugee sponsorship was at. We were happy to announce that we are now at the minimum amount of money needed for our sponsorship to happen. We emphasized that this number was very low and just covered the bare necessities (of things like housing) and that we would continue to fund raise to off set other costs that will most definitely come up along the way. We then watched a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) video of another group’s sponsorship journey to help us start to get a picture of what our own future might look like.

Because we are in the waiting period of our sponsorship project, there isn’t a lot that can be done right now. That can sometimes feel frustrating but there is at least one thing that we can do, and that is to be praying. We spent the majority of our time praying for Newcomers and Refugees. We started praying for our smaller local circles and then moved outwards to more global circles.

We prayed for:

  • People we know who are supporting Newcomers in Hamilton.
  • Newcomers we have met in Hamilton.
  • The specific family we are sponsoring that is waiting in a refugee camp in Jordan.
  • People waiting in Refugee Camps around the world.
  • Workers and Volunteers helping in Refugee Camps.
  • People who are still in the countries others are fleeing (both those who stay by choice and those who are forced to stay)
  • Aid workers and organizations working in countries that are unsafe and unstable.
  • The Leaders and people with power who are causing this refugee crisis. We prayed that these people who have abused their power would change their ways or that they would lose their power to hurt others.

After we prayed we sang a song called All Ye Refugees by Sandra McCracken. This song has become an important one for us as Commoners (we have even added it to our Hymn-o-tangs). We are very thankful that Sandra has posted the sheet music (for free!) on her website.

We ended our gathering by watching a fun video I got to be part of Last Christmas. The video was an IWC commercial for their Beard Balm fundraiser with 4 guys talking/bragging about their beards. 2 of us were born in Canada, 2 of us were born in Syria, and all of us now live in Hamilton. Not only did I get to live out my dream of being a beard model, I also got to find out how much I had in common with these other beautiful bearded fellows.

We Value Peace

On Sunday April 23, 2017 we started our Teaching Series on our seven Values. Everyone of our values has a story behind it that captures a moment in time where a word becomes something more. Our first story was for the value of Peace.

Peace is actually our newest value. We added it when we were still an independent church. We felt like we needed to be better at navigating interpersonal conflicts and personality clashes. We wanted to be good peacemakers with each other as a family, so we added Peace to our list of values as a way of making us accountable to that desire. Once we joined Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) as our wider tribe, the word “peace” began to have other more global implications.

Shortly after joining the Mennonites we had a very scary and violent incident happen to one of our people and it became a catalyst for us trying to learn more about how to “do peace” rather than just say “we value peace”. It is a story that starts with a physical window but turns into a metaphorical window to help us rookie peacemakers dig a little deeper into practicing peace.

Here is a recording of Randell Neudorf telling our Peace Story:

We are still on this journey of figuring out how to practically be Peacemakers. We are definitely not the experts, but we are trying to learn.

We have some friends from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) who have been teaching us how to Practice Peace. They are the folks that go into war zones and stand in front of people with Guns trying to find new ways to solve conflicts. We really believe that some of CPT’s practices can be translated for our everyday local context.

CPT has a helpful definition for Violence and Nonviolence that we have been using:

  • Violence Is power that Dominates, Dehumanizes, Diminishes, and Destroys. It does this to Selves, Others, and Nature.
  • Nonviolence is power that Liberates, Humanizes, Heals, and Creates. It does this to Selves, Others, and Nature.

CPT folks spend a lot of time practicing, and roll playing situations they might find themselves in. When confronted with violence, hate or hurt we naturally jump towards one of two responses: fight or flight. People and movements of peace have to practice a Third Way Response.  An Active Non Violent Response.

  • It is Active because we don’t want to just avoid the bad powers of Violence (that Dominate, Dehumanize, Diminish, and Destroy)
  • It is Active because we want to build up the good powers of Non-Violence. (that Liberates, Humanizes, Heals, and Creates)

When Christian Civil Rights leaders organized peaceful protests (in the face of hate and violence) they took the time to practice being peacemakers. They would act out situations they thought they might come up against to practice how to be an active nonviolent force for peace (in the face of horrible racism, injustice and violence).

Acting out situations to learn how to be peacemakers is part of our Christian Heritage. Sometimes it is called “Theatre of the Oppressed.”

When we act a situation out we often have 3 types of characters.

  • Aggressors – the person acting out in violence
  • Victims (Oppressed Person)– the people the violence is directed to.
  • Peacemakers – the people trying to intervene.

The Point of the exercise is to remember that everyone is made in the image of God (the Aggressor, The Oppressed, The Peacemaker). Taking on the roll of each of these characters is so important.

When acting as the…

  • Peacemaker – We get to try out solutions and see what happens.
  • The Oppressed Person – We walk a little in their shoes and start to learn what they would want to happen, what they want to change.
  • Aggressor – We get to feel their emotions and their thoughts, and we even find ourselves feeling some empathy and love for the people we disagree with. This helps us learn to reach out to them.

We ended the gathering acting out some situations that involved Verbal Violence and going through some peace building exercises. We would highly encourage anyone interested in learning more about peace to approach it as a practical discipline.

If you are interested we would be happy to help facilitate a workshop or gathering for your church, youth group or community center. We have developed an interactive curriculum called Peacemaker Boot Camp as a fun and hands on way to introduce the value of Peace as a practical tool for our everyday lives.

To learn more,
contact Randell from The Commons:

email:  thecommonschurch@gmail.com
phone: 905-379-3717

Click on the images below for the other talks in Our Values Series: