The following is a reflection offered by AWS Vice-President, Carol Bechtel, on August 27, 2017 at the Chiesa Evangelica Valdese (Unione delle Chiese Valdesi e Metodiste) in Bresia, Italy. Carol and her husband, Tom Mullens, were visiting the congregation of Rev. Anne Zell at the conclusion of a 3-week trip focusing on immigration. Rev. Zell accompanied Carol and Tom to the island of Lampedusa off the southern coast of Sicily, where they met with staff members of Mediterranean Hope and learned about the work there to welcome immigrants and refugees. They also spent a few days with the staff at Casa delle Culture in Scicli, Sicily, learning about their work with unaccompanied minors and with mothers with young babies. After attending the Waldensian/Methodist Synod in Torre Pellice, Carol and Tom attended worship with Anne Zell’s congregation in Brescia, which includes members of many different nationalities.
Deuteronomy 10: 19 tells us, “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (NRSV). This is a good text for us today, and for our world as a whole for many reasons. This morning, I’d like to highlight three of those reasons.
First, it reminds us that all of us have been “strangers” at one time or another-and all of us know how much it means to be welcomed. My husband and I have certainly appreciated the warm welcome we have received her in Brescia, as well as in Lampedusa, in Scicli, and in Torre Pellice. The Waldensian Church is particularly good at welcoming strangers, and the more I learn about your story, the more I understand why. So, grazie mille!
This is also a good text for us today because it contains a blessing-a promise, if you will. When we welcome strangers, they do not remain strangers for long. Soon, they beco
me friends! This has certainly been our experience with your pastor, Anne, and her daughter, Miriam. This past year my husband and I were blessed to host Anne and Miram in our home in Holland, Michigan. Anne participated in the work and worship of our local congregation (Hope Church, RCA) as well as the daily life of Western Theological Seminary where I teach. Miriam attended our local public school and was a wonderful ambassador in her own right. While the EFFE program was des
igned to give Waldensian pastors a chance to observe ministries in other contexts and to “refresh” their own ministries, the leaning and refreshment went both ways. Many people in Holland, Michigan, now have a positive first hand impression of the Waldensians. I’m sure the same is true in the other places where EFFE ambassadors participated. Only the Holy Spirit can say what fruit will grow from the seeds planted during these cross-cultural visits. So, thank you so much for sharing Anne and Miriam with us!
The third reason this is a good text for us today is because it is a commandment. Notice that it is not an option or a suggestion, but a commandment. When Anne and Miriam visited us, they told us about the Waldensian Church’s work with Humanitarian Corridors, Mediterranean Hope, and Being Church Together. It grieves me that there are some people in the U.S. who have an anti-immigrant bias born of racism, hate, and xenophobia. Yet, in the face of this bias, more and more of our churches are taking a role in helping immigrants settle in their communities, and many are paying particular attention to it given political developments that I need not detail. So, for us it was the perfect time to learn about your work.
These are just a few reflections on the importance of welcoming the stranger. I hope that my words will serve as a beginning to many other rich conversations. For now, let me conclude by saying that those of us in the American Waldensian Society and the North American churches it represent are honored by your partnership in the Gospel. Together, we look forward to the day when we can gather not as Americans or Africans or Europeans, but as children of the living God. It will be a d
ay of God’s design and not our own-a day when there will be “a great multitude…from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7). It will be a day when “God will wipe away every tear” from our eyes. It will be the last, best homecoming. May God bless us and keep us all until the day of that “glorious return.”