By Steve Carpenter
Have you seen the “Welcome Your Neighbor” sign with its three bright colors in three languages?
There are now more than 100,000 signs in yards and storefronts across the U.S. and Canada. Its message of welcome and hospitality, started by Mennonites in Harrisonburg, VA, has been inspiring thousands. It showed up on HuffPost, NPR, Relevant Magazine, and scores of local news outlets. There was even a news outlet in Spain reporting on the sign’s popularity.
A United Church of Christ congregation in Lancaster, PA celebrated Pentecost by transformed the image of the signs into doves representing the Holy Spirit’s descent.
When the Democratic and Republican primaries were just beginning in the summer of 2016, my small congregation, Immanuel Mennonite Church (IMC) in Harrisonburg, Virginia, decided to put up a sign proclaiming our shared value of welcoming foreigners. The wording for the sign came from our pastor Matthew Bucher and it was hand painted by another member of the congregation, Melissa Howard.
IMC’s neighbors speak many languages, but primarily English, Spanish and Arabic. Matthew said, “I hope that the sign is a marker to the community. And, I hope that folks leaving IMC after a service are reminded of who we are to be.”
Mennonites, as followers of Jesus, have traditionally refused to take up arms in self-defense or in national defense. Some have also chosen not to vote, deciding rather to remain separate from the political process. During the 2016 election Pastor Matthew Bucher at IMC, encouraged those in his faith community to put out a “We are glad you’re our neighbor” sign rather than a politically partisan sign. My wife and I put one in our front yard in August, 2016 and its still there.
While some in the U.S. government continue to press to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, fear of immigrants continues. Yet, others refuse to give in to fear but rather reach out in love. Matthew 25:35 reminds us that when we welcome others our heavenly Father will reward us. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
The sign is now available in 16 different language combinations. All are free to down-load and can be printed locally without infringing on any copyrights. You can also buy these signs and other “Welcome Your Neighbor” products online. Click here to link to the “Welcome Neighbors” site affiliated with Immanuel Mennonite Church, who originated this idea.
If you have a sign in your yard and a story to tell post it here on the official “Welcome Neighbors Sign” FB page.
In January, 2018, we at MennoMedia will be publishing a Herald Press book on immigration titled Love Undocumented: Risking Trust in a Fearful World, by Sarah Quezada. We hope to encourage people to look beyond their fears and respond to immigrants, even undocumented ones, with love.
Blessings in your work, worship and witness,