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Faith Perspectives: Loving the “other”
Faith Perspectives

Faith Perspectives: Loving the “other”

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Alex Garcia

Alex Garcia hugs his son, Caleb, 13, after a press conference, Friday, July 12, 2019, at Christ Church United Church of Christ, the Maplewood church that has given him sanctuary since 2017. Photo by Hillary Levin, hlevin@post-dispatch.com

A Faith Perspectives article written by Anita Anton last summer posed the question, “Do we as a nation welcome strangers in our midst?”

It was positioned under another article that outlined the plight of Honduran refugee Alex Garcia, who has sought sanctuary in Maplewood’s Christ Church UCC. U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, has introduced legislation that would change Garcia's status to permanent legal resident.

What was buried in that article was the note that Garcia, before coming to St. Louis, spent several years in the southeastern Missouri town of Poplar Bluff.

That’s my hometown. I know firsthand that it’s not a bastion of liberalism. Approximately 80% of Butler County, of which Poplar Bluff is the county seat, voted for Trump in 2016.

Yet some people there bonded with the Honduran.

New York Magazine’s Intelligencer ran an article titled, “The Trump-Loving Town and Its Favorite Undocumented Immigrant.” The author interviewed some of the Bluff’s residents who got to know him. They were impressed both by Garcia’s hard work ethic and his compassion for others, such as mowing lawns for the elderly free of charge.

“He changed me,” one person said. Another added, “I didn’t grow up around people like him, but if the world had a few more people like him, the world would be a better place.”

This has no doubt initiated an inner struggle among some of these residents. How do you reconcile a get-tough policy of blanket deportations when you know that people like Garcia — who make the world a better place — will be sent back?

Dealing with such a conflict can lead to plowing under the barrier to simple human compassion. Stereotypes fly when you have the opportunity to get to know a person.

I am proud of the people in Poplar Bluff who played the Good Samaritan to Alex. Giving him food, shelter, a job and respect. They reached out to someone different from themselves and gave him a chance. It doesn’t matter what political party you’re from. It matters what’s in your heart. And they, in turn, were rewarded by a broader world view that welcomes the stranger.

It is wrong to stoke fear of the stranger in our midst or on our border. The people from my hometown demonstrated that the surest antidote to ungrounded fear is risk-taking love, which treats people as persons and not as labels.

Speaking of labels, perhaps the most inaccurate of all is the label “stranger.” There are really no strangers, as if they’re from another planet. We are all on this planet. We all share the amazing human experience.

It’s not a burden or obligation to welcome a fellow traveler; at least an innkeeper provided a stable for Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem. It’s a privilege, and getting to know their stories and personalities enables us to live more deeply in our own lives. If we work on including and learning, not excluding and judging, we might be surprised by the number of Alex Garcias in our midst.

I was privileged to chat with him briefly. He mentioned that he would like to go back to Poplar Bluff someday.

I understand why.

Greg Weeks is a retired pastor in the United Methodist Church. He is a regular Faith Perspectives contributor to STLtoday.com/religion. Read his blog at www.revgregweeks.com.

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