Rev. Sturgis Poorman on the joy of welcoming the stranger

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

I often wonder, “if I wasn’t born here, how would my life be different?” What if I hadn’t won the genetic lottery, with the opportunities inherent in being born a white, middle class American?

What if I was born in a war-torn county? And faced the inhumanity of crushing poverty? What if I had lost everything and lived each day in fear for my children’s survival?

And what if there was a radiant promised land not too far from my border? I’d hear stories about it being a land of opportunity, a place where everyone who works hard enough succeeds.

I imagine my wellspring of hope, trusting, believing that if I could just get there, I’d be part of this American dream. My children would be safe. I’d work hard.  We’d make it. I’d risk everything to get there.

I imagine how sad I’d feel saying goodbye to everything I knew: my country, family, friends, a language, and culture I understood. I’d trade my comfort to dare to give my children what every mother since the dawn of time has wanted: a chance for a better life.

And of course, I think of those same visions that motivated my great-grandparents to immigrate to America from Ireland.

This week’s 3-Minute Storyteller, Rev. Sturgis Poorman, shares this moral imagination.

He has dedicated his life to easing the suffering of these mothers, and their children and families who come to our shores daring for that better life. As a Presbyterian minister, his directive is Biblical: we are called to welcome the stranger.

The passage that guides him is when Jesus says: “For I was hungry, and you gave Me food; I was thirsty, and you gave drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Our conversation here picks up with Rev. Poorman offering his views about the differences in the motives and challenges faced by immigrants and refugees who come to America.  Generalizing like this has limits. But with three decades of service to thousands of immigrants and refugees from over 100 countries, Sturgis is uniquely positioned to offer nuanced insight.

And it’s this type of nuanced insight that is so critical in our country right now.  We wanted to go directly to people who see and live that experience every day.

As the Founder of the nonprofit Welcoming the Stranger, Sturgis has become a new kind of “first responder.” He mobilizes volunteers, raises funds, and leads communities to support the transition of immigrants and refugees into this foreign land. From driving to doctor appointments, helping to find housing, to running English, computer, and naturalization classes, his life’s work offers a lifeline to the most vulnerable strangers among us.

Listening to Sturgis describe his calling and the joy it brings him feeds my wonder.

Who may have given my grandmother her first smile as she stepped foot in this foreign land?

Who taught my great-grandfather his first American phrase?

Who showed them kindness?

I sit here now, trying to reconcile the responsibility inherent in my privilege. It’s the work of a lifetime.

To learn more about immigration services and refugee resettlement, please explore these links.

#Immigration, #refugees, #refugeeresettlement, #solidarity, #offorandbythepeople

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