Welcome to America, Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts that I shared here on my blog. Please read the first and second parts of the story for better understanding.

A tiny population of immigrants can hardly afford a church, or even to share space with an existing church. They meet in two bedroom apartment not much bigger than Suan and Sing's. Zomi people prefer to sit on the floor or on low stools, and so the central room of the apartment is completely emptied of its daily furniture, and thirty or so Zomi sit on the floor. The children meet in an adjacent bedroom, where several mothers teach them Bible stories, songs, and verses. In the main room, we sing hymns and praise songs. The tunes are familiar, but the words are in Zolai. Then prayer requests are shared, followed by a period of congregational prayer. After that comes the sermon, and then more singing and prayer.

One of the young women in the church -- a high schooler who has been in the country for several years -- was assigned to be our interpreter. She translated prayer requests, updates on church members, song lyrics, prayers, and even the sermon. On that day, Suan was asked to deliver the sermon. She translated Suan's heart-melting story as he told the small congregation how his family had rebounded from the brink of despair in Malaysia, and how they looked with optimism toward their future here. 

The next few words from his lips caught me off guard. They needed no translation, for they were my name and Angie's. Our translator leaned over and told us that he was citing Matthew 5, "You are the salt of the earth." He used Angie and I, and the efforts of Willow Creek and Exodus, as an example of how the church can "season" the world, can bring zest and flavor. I looked over at Angie and could see tears in her eyes. We didn't know we were going to be salt. We didn't know we could be salt.

Salt is a funny thing. During certain periods of history salt was so valuable that it was used as currency (giving rise to the saying "worth his salt"). It is used as a seasoning and a preservative. That is, it has both aesthetic value and utility. Humans require salt in our diet. It's necessary for life. And yet nobody sits down to a nice big bowl of salt. We sprinkle it. We mix it. It only performs its function when it is blended with other things. 

Why did Jesus call us the salt of the world?

Suan and Sing are beginning their fourth month in Chicago. In only a few months, they have learned a surprising amount of English, and they have ventured out into the city on buses and trains. Pancakes, it turns out, have become a typical breakfast for their two children. 

Suan worked with his refugee case worker to find his first job. Hearing the other children in the building fluidly switching from the Zolai language of their parents to their newly acquired English reminds me once again how quickly children can learn, and how much hope their parents bestow upon them. 

But more than anything, being invited into this small village of refugees tucked away in an urban neighborhood on Chicago's north side, I have become acutely aware --  through their faith -- that the church, the whole church, really is the salt of the earth. Like the Zomi, spread from their home in the mountains of Burma, salt is sprinkled out, mixed into other things. 

The church can only be the hope of the world when we allow ourselves to be mixed, to be spread. Only then do we bring both the utility and the beauty of God's work to the world.

This is a guest post from my husband, Matt.  Matt is a software developer with an amazing gift for writing. His passions include theology, philosophy, grilling and reading. He wrote this story as a way to share our recent experiences with refugees and the organization that connected us with them. (We have changed some names for privacy.)

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