“…These victims of war and oppression look hopefully to the democratic countries to help them rebuild their lives and provide for the future of their children. We must not destroy their hope. The only civilized course is to enable these people to take new roots in friendly soil. “ – Harry Truman, 1947
A National Crisis
243 years ago, a vision for America was penned in our founding documents, couched in the truth that all are created equal and deserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These values have been reinstilled and affirmed time and time again throughout our history, and though our nation has never perfectly reflected these ideals, at our best moments we’ve proudly lived up to, and drawn strength from them.
Today, our world is facing the worst displacement crisis since WWII, with over 26 million men, women and children fleeing violence, poverty and oppression. And yet, this year, our nation will admit less than half of 1% of those searching for a place to rebuild their homes. Contrast our history with these realities and it’s hard not to conclude that America is facing an identity crisis—one which threatens to undermine an identity painstakingly forged over hundreds of years as America became a haven of hope for those seeking a safer, more promising place to build a future.
We wish it were different. This crisis is heartbreaking. It’s exhausting. And it’s painful. But we cannot, and must not lose heart.
The Less Told Story
That’s why this holiday season, we want to tell you a different story. It’s a story of love, hope and perseverance. A story of flourishing communities and biblical welcome. A story that may not be making headlines, but which moves as a powerful undercurrent, creating lasting change in small pockets across our country. It starts with the profound conviction that we are all made equal in the eyes of God, and with the belief that beneath the weary faces of those fleeing violence and oppression, hope springs eternal. Most importantly, it starts with the knowledge that love is the catalyst that makes all things possible.
This season, we chose to celebrate this story. And while we mourn the state of our nation, we choose to press on with joy, and in faith, because this is a story worth rejoicing in. One which has the power to overcome the narrative of fear in our nation and heal our deepening divisions.
This is not a singular story. It is one made up of hundreds of moments, milestones and achievements. It begins in English language classes in Chicago, legal services in Atlanta and job readiness training in Memphis. It gathers strength in community gardening projects in Seattle, trauma counseling in Winston-Salem and women’s sewing clubs in Spokane. And it overcomes all odds at college graduations in Durham, job promotions in Sacramento and citizenship ceremonies in D.C. It rewrites futures, rebuilds homes and restores belonging.
The Paradise Parking Lots
Perhaps nowhere is this story better manifested than in Kent, Washington, where a once small partnership between World Relief Seattle and Hillside Church has exploded into a transformational, citywide movement. Originally partnering with World Relief to provide space and volunteers to teach English language classes to immigrants, today the parking lot of Hillside Church, newly dubbed the Paradise Parking Plots, boasts a blossoming, 1-acre community garden.
Its community is made up of 47 families spanning 22 nations, over 1,400 volunteers, and a handful of local businesses, schools and government groups. Beyond the garden’s initial goal of providing refugees and other immigrants in vulnerable situations with a place to grow familiar foods, cultivate community and connect with the earth in their new urban environment, the Paradise Parking Plots are leading the way in Green initiatives, using rainwater cisterns to provide irrigation and addressing local flooding issues. Innovation around this project has won the Green Globe Award from King County, and provides environmental internship opportunities for local refugee high school students who then go on to mentor other youth in environmental science at World Relief’s Summer Camp. What’s more, Hillside church will soon open a commercial kitchen space for micro-enterprise cooking activities to take place, expanding opportunities and increasing the impact that the garden lots provide.
Perhaps most importantly, this project is providing a place for people from all walks of life to come together, fostering friendships between both new and long-term community members from every tribe, tongue and creed. Here, immigrants and native-born Americans are growing and flourishing together. They are finding a sense of unity, family and belonging. They are finding the community that makes ‘home’ feel like home.
A Vision for Lasting Change
The story of the Paradise Parking Plots is just one of the many parts that make up the story of what we’re doing together across the U.S., and it’s one you should feel proud to be a part of. It is a story of hope overcoming despair. Of unity over division. And of peace over fear. Above all, it is a story of love triumphing over hate. Though it’s quiet, and too often lost amidst the dominant political narratives, this story inspires us with vision and with hope. And it stands as a powerful reminder of what could be when we come together to create lasting change in our communities.
Lasting change starts with a shared vision of what could be possible, and calls people to that vision. It requires commitment and perseverance, but often the results exceed even our own expectations. This is what we hope and pray for as we work together to transform lives and communities across the U.S.
For over 40 years, we’ve welcomed and helped integrate over 300,000 refugees and other vulnerable immigrants to communities all across our nation, rebuilding lives and creating communities of love and welcome that we all feel proud to be a part of. We do so not only because we believe in this nation of immigrants, and the strength and power of America as a land of hope and opportunity for all, but because we believe it is our calling as Christians to welcome the orphan, the widow and the least of these.
Today, this calling faces more hurdles than perhaps ever before. Yet these hurdles gives us all the more reason to fight. And to fight harder. Because we believe we are called to such a time as this — to stand as light amidst the darkness, and to be the voice of compassion, justice and above all, love.
Francesca Albano currently serves as Director of Branded Content at World Relief. With a background in Cultural Anthropology and a graduate degree in Strategic Marketing Communications, she connects her interests in societal studies and global cultures with her training in brand strategy and storytelling. Francesca is especially passionate about grassroots community development and the treatment and advancement of women and girls around the world.