Getting closer in relationships with people in our lives means being willing to take the first step. We make an invitation. We reach out. We are willing to be vulnerable. If you want to build relationships with immigrants and refugees in your community, you will need to make those same first steps. Taking the first step isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. We have a few simple suggestions that can help you move closer, to choose proximity.
When we mention getting in closer proximity to immigrants locally, some people respond by saying, “there just aren’t any immigrants in my community.” While there may not be refugees or asylum seekers in your immediate circle, there are immigrants in every community. We often just don’t see them because we get into our daily rhythms and we aren’t looking. We have to intentionally alter our paths to meet people outside of our usual patterns.
Here are 9 tangible ways for you to increase your proximity to immigrants and refugees in your local area and move from conversation to connection:
Have dinner at an immigrant-owned restaurant. Leave a bigger tip than you typically would and leave a welcoming note on the receipt. (Example: “Glad you’re here!”) Dine there on a regular basis and get to know the staff.
Visit an international grocery store near you. Buy a few items! Find something unfamiliar to you and learn about it. Feeling bold? Ask someone in the store if it’s good or how to prepare it!
Locate an immigrant services or refugee resettlement agency near you. Consider how you might attend an event, volunteer, or drop off donations. Google is a great tool for finding local agencies!
Visit an immigrant-owned business. Step outside your normal routine and visit a new restaurant, dry cleaner, market, or any small business in your area. Say hi and strike up a conversation! Then make a point to shop there often and get to know the staff.
A crucial part of changing our behaviors is changing our hearts, asking God to open our hearts to the opportunity to be welcoming. There may be immigrants in your neighborhood who feel excluded or just need a welcoming conversation. There may be people on your children’s sports teams or at your gym. Pray and ask God to open your eyes as you go about your usual social rhythms and show you immigrants in your area who could use a friendly face. Take a bold step and start a conversation!
A great way to move closer in proximity to New Americans in your community is by coming alongside them to learn and celebrate their cultural heritage and expressions. You can attend a heritage festival, a movie, a dance performance, an art show, a lecture, or an interfaith event outside your cultural context. There are so many possibilities! Google multicultural, cultural, or interfaith events in your area. There are many events like this in the fall in a lot of cities or around holidays related to immigrant communities near year. Be proactive to look for ways to celebrate with those near you.
Get outdoors! Practice proximity and invite someone you’re getting to know to hang outside with you. Meet-ups outside are low prep and a good first step. Attend an outdoor festival together or find a park near you and make an invitation! It can be a low-anxiety, low-planning way to take the first step.
Did you know surveys show that somewhere between 70-80% of international students studying in the U.S. are never invited into someone’s home? If you have an extra place at your table, consider inviting international students, immigrants, or a refugee family in your neighborhood over for a meal or celebration. There are many holidays throughout the year that provide the perfect opportunity to show hospitality! Holidays also offer you an opportunity to learn about an immigrant holiday or tradition. The immigrants and refugees in your neighborhood have their own beautiful and unique ways of celebrating. Most people will be so excited to share their traditions with you and learn about yours. Make an invite or show interest in a friend’s traditions!
Some members of our community have taken trips to the border to get closer to the humanitarian crisis taking place among our southern neighbors. Not all of us can get that close but we can still lean in with curiosity, compassion, and understanding. One way to get closer is by supporting our border partners. These organizations are proximate by location and purpose. They are doing the work of welcoming up close. And they need us to come alongside them.
In December 2022 we spent the month looking at Christmas at the Border, hearing from those on the ground doing the work at the borderlands to hear how we can help. We spoke with several organizations to help connect you to the work at the border. We know part of getting closer can be bringing tangible hope to vulnerable families. We shared these organizations’ Amazon wishlists so you can easily give to support immigrants during the Christmas season and beyond. You can also check out their social media and websites for information on how to get involved by volunteering, giving, praying, and more!
Check out Christmas at the Border with: