"You Are Welcome Here!"

By Laurel Kehl

That’s how Pastor Vinny Tauriello greeted our ESL students and families at the annual Thanksgiving Feast this year. For those who have faced war, violence, shortages, and overcrowded refugee camps, this was a wonderful message!

It is also a rare message in our political climate of fear and growing xenophobia. Many of our students have overcome incredible obstacles simply to GET to the U.S.!  Some have suffered greatly…and to be met with anger and resentment can re-traumatize them and fill them with uncertainty and fear.

Noora is an older Iraqi woman whose husband and sons were all killed by ISIS.  She perpetually dresses in black, and her face appears hardened from her pain.  But over time she has begun to  sense something different in our family environment at ESL. She has heard stories about Jesus and begun to get a taste of His great love through those of us who have shown her kindness.  Now when I see her after class, her face lights up and she greets me warmly.  It’s a huge step for her to trust that we deeply care about her.

When Noora and others of our ESL students are asked what they are thankful for, they tend to respond with:

  • I am thankful for my teachers.
  • I am thankful to study English.
  • I am thankful to be safe in America.

WE are thankful for THEM, as well! Through our students we are reminded of how loved, protected, and rich we are in Christ. We get a taste of what they have suffered, and it reminds us of all Jesus suffered on our behalf. We listen to their stories, and we learn how to lament that this world is broken and certainly not what God intends it to be! We are reminded that this world is not our home.

Someday we will ALL hear those words, “You are welcome here!” But we will hear those words from Jesus Himself. May we long for and work toward that day when we have a NEW Thanksgiving Feast around the Lord’s table with every tongue, tribe, and nation!