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Welcoming New Americans

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Gary's Faith Walk from Yellowstone

My “critter watching” in Yellowstone National Park couldn’t have begun better! As I stuffed my sleeping bag and pulled tent pegs, two beautiful elk emerged from the forest nibbling grass in the early morning sun. Just feet from my campsite, they grazed contentedly while I quietly packed up and headed out. I could tell it was going to be a remarkable Sunday, a day for vistas and critters amidst God’s creation.

But, do you know that catchy Q&A? “Know how to make God smile? Make plans.”

The plan was to hike, take pictures, and view the park’s wolves, bison, bears, elk, otters, big horned sheep, mountain goats and an occasional cut throat trout, peregrine falcon, and wildflowers for biologic balance. What I hadn’t counted on was the human interaction that made the day even more remarkable.

These days the park has showers near camp sites, so I decided to clean up (and warm up) after my night on the ground. As I eased my truck into the parking lot, the sound of Arabic music flowed from a van in the otherwise nearly vacant lot. The rhythmic sounds of the lute-like oud and the darbuka hand drum filled my ears as I entered the door marked “Men.” Through the steam came the laughter and excited voices of fathers talking with sons, uncles talking with nephews—all in Arabic, save for the occasional English phrase a child would inject into the conversation.

And, then it came to me. This was a picture of post 9/11 America. This was a picture of one impact of eight years of war in Iraq. From the fall of 2006 (at the height of the civil war) to today, almost 60,000 Iraqi refugees have arrived in the United States for resettlement. According to the Department of Homeland Security, these persons had suffered persecution or had a “well-founded fear of future persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group.” And, each year from 2006 to 2008, between 3,000 and 5,000 Iraqi born persons had become naturalized American citizens. That trend continues. Were some of the fathers and uncles that day in Yellowstone translators for U.S. ground forces now resettled for fear of retribution? Were these men the source of information leading to successful attacks against Al Quida in Iraq?

It has always been this way during and after wars the United States has fought. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, America received thousands of service men and families from South Viet Nam. We received “boat people” escaping communist repression in Southeast Asia. We received Hmong tribesmen whom we once fought alongside. And a generation before, tens of thousands of “war brides” came to America from Great Britain, Germany, Austria, France, Japan, Philippines, and South Korea. The violence and death of war is filled with horror, but there can be no denying that the face of America changes each time we enter into such a conflict.

I went to Yellowstone see wild things. I did not expect to see the newest face of America. For me, the park holds the wonder and beauty of the created order. And shouldn’t it be so for refugees and new Americans as well? No matter our country of birth, we all shared the joy of the park’s wildlife and geologic diversity.

In my faith walk, I seek to heed the charge of Jesus to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:31) among us. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail. But on one summer day, I was filled with happiness that we could all be welcomed in the beauty of God’s creation. That Sunday, I truly worshipped in the Cathedral of the Blue Dome. It was my wish that the Friday before, the families I encountered had been able to lay out their prayer rugs and equally worship in the Mosque of the Blue Dome.

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Author info

Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

Tagged as:

Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Iraqis, immigration, Gary's Faith Walk

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