2138 McVitty Road SW
Roanoke, VA 24018
(540) 774-3217
Worship Service at 11 am

You are welcome here

The next time you come by our church, you may notice a new sign in the front yard next to the familiar peace signs that have been there for some time.  These “Welcome our Neighbor” signs were made by Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, VA, as a way for them to tell their multi-ethnic neighborhood that the sometimes controversial public attitudes and conversations surrounding refugees and immigration were not shared by the congregation.  And while the Immanuel congregation did not intend to start a nationwide-trend with these signs, they aren’t disappointed with their popularity.  You can read more on that part of this story in the NPR news article attached here:  http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/12/09/504969049/a-message-of-tolerance-and-welcome-spreading-from-yard-to-yard

On Sunday night, our church board agreed to add one of these signs to our front yard as another means of public witness in our ongoing commitment to Continue the work of Jesus…Peacefully, Simply, Together. The board recognizes that the current controversy surrounding refugees and immigration might cause some to see this sign as a political statement. Such interpretations may be unavoidable.  But our board recognizes the long standing commitment of the Bible and the Church of the Brethren to be gracious to all persons, whether they are our brother/sister in Christ, our neighbor, or our enemy.

One illustration of this comes from Psalm 94.  There, the writer laments how the wicked are oppressing the vulnerable in society, saying:

They {the wicked} pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage. They kill the widow and the stranger, they murder the orphan, and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.” (Psalm 94:4-7, NRSV)

The reference to the “widow, stranger, and orphan” is significant, because in the book of Deuteronomy, God writes specific provisions for these persons into the covenant Law.  God’s people were supposed to make special provision for the widow, stranger, and orphan:

You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this (Deuteronomy 24:17-18).

For the Church of the Brethren, this basic outlook is summed up in Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

Because the topic of refugees and immigration has been in the news lately, it seems good to be reminded of some things the Church of the Brethren has said on this topic.  Included below are three illustrations of how Brethren respond to the plight of oppressed persons.

The first is a letter that our General Secretary David Steele signed on behalf of the Church of the Brethren, related to the current crisis with refugees and immigration:  http://www.brethren.org/news/2017/church-of-the-brethren-signs-refugees-letter.html

Second, the 2015 Annual Conference issued a statement concerning the great suffering and persecution that Christians currently face in places where they are a religious minority:  http://www.brethren.org/ac/statements/2015resolutiononchristianminoritycommunities.html

Finally, a recent edition of Church of the Brethren Newsline includes the story of Ralph and Mary Smeltzer’s work with Japanese-Americans who were interred by the United States Government during World War 2.  That entire Newsline article is included here:

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Christianity was on trial: The Smeltzers stand with Japanese-Americans

Church of the Brethren Newsline, February 11, 2017

The following is an excerpt of the late Mary Blocher Smeltzer’s story about how she and her husband, Ralph Smeltzer, aided Japanese-American families who were interned by the US government during World War II. The Smeltzers began teaching at the Manzanar internment camp and then worked to relocate Japanese-American families to Chicago and New York with help from the Church of the Brethren and Bethany Seminary. This story was included in the chapter titled “Japanese-American Resettlement Work” in the book “To Serve the Present Age: The Brethren Service Story,” edited by Donald F. Durnbaugh and published by Brethren Press in 1975:

“Pearl Harbor Day–Sunday, December 7, 1941–is a day many of us remember in detail, including exactly where we were and what we were doing. At the time, Ralph and I were teaching school and living in East Los Angeles. For us, it marked the beginning of our interest and activity in the plight of Japanese Americans on the West Coast during World War II. Very soon public and military pressure began to mount ‘to do something about the “Japs” on the Coast.’ …Demands for evacuation grew, encouraged by the Hearst Press, Caucasian vegetable and nursery growers, and Lt. General John B. Dewitt, West Coast military commander. National security then became the pretext for the evacuation of the 110,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast….

“The first Japanese Americans to be evacuated were those living on Terminal Island, a fishing colony located in San Pedro–the Los Angeles harbor. They were given a forty-eight hour notice in February, 1942, to dispose of their possessions and move out. Ralph took a day off from school to help. He had already been demoted from a regular to a substitute teacher in the Los Angeles schools because he expressed his conscientious objection to selling defense stamps. He was shocked at seeing army jeeps with machine guns patrolling the streets while looters were raiding houses from the alleys…. Within a few weeks all Japanese Americans in the Los Angeles area were evacuated, usually early in the mornings. We helped serve them breakfast at the train and bus stations, getting up at five o’clock, helping at the stations, then hurrying off to school.

“First stop for evacuees was an ‘assembly center’ such as Santa Anita Race Track, Arcadia, or the Los Angeles County Fair Grounds in Pomona. Horse stalls and hastily-built barracks were used to house them….

“Whereas the evacuees were taken from the metropolitan areas in the spring of 1942, those in rural areas were moved in the summer. While we were directing a summer work camp in Farmersville near Lindsay in the San Joaquin Valley, Japanese Americans were taken from that inland area now classified as Zone 2. Some Japanese-American farmers from the Coast had relocated there earlier expecting to be safe from evacuation. We organized efforts to provide food and transportation to the train station in order to make the leaving a little easier for the evacuees.

“Although the military leaders welcomed our help, veterans, legionnaires, and local police harassed us and even threatened our lives. The situation was so serious that all helpers were called together early on evacuation day to reconsider our plans and have a prayer meeting. We decided that Christianity was on trial in Lindsay that day, and we must go ahead. Our tormentors surrounded us at the train station, shook their fists, and hurled derogatory remarks, but did not harm us.

“Gradually all West-Coast Japanese Americans were put into ten War Relocation Centers in out-of-the-way places east of the Sierras, in California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, and Arkansas. We decided to apply to teach school at the Manzanar Center northeast of Mt. Whitney near Lone Pine, California….”

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May these stories—and the sign in the front yard of our church property—be a constant reminder to follow Jesus, whatever the circumstances may be.

Pastor Tim