LIMA — “And who is my neighbor?”
With this simple question in Luke 10:29, a lawyer prompts Jesus to tell one of the most famous stories in the entire Bible. We all know the gist of it, of course. A traveler — an Israelite, one presumes — is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he falls into the hands of robbers, who strip him, beat him, and go away, “leaving him half dead.” A priest comes down the road and passes him by. As does a Levite. But a Samaritan — a member of a community shunned, even hated, by the Jews — comes upon the man and takes pity on him. He bandages the victim’s wounds and takes him to an inn where he tells the innkeeper to care for him. ‘Take care of him,” the Samaritan instructs, “and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
The lesson, of course, is that it was the stranger, not his countrymen, who behaved as a true neighbor to the victim. “Go,” said Jesus, “and do the same.”
Paula Snyder Belousek has taken this lesson to heart.
“I think it’s the heart of the gospel,” she told me in a recent conversation. “If we take Jesus seriously, we’re not meant to be a religious club where we’re all just concerned about each other.”
And to make her point, Belousek, who serves as pastor of the Salem Mennonite Church in Elida, is now distributing yard signs that announce, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor,” with script in Spanish, English and Arabic.
The message first appeared in October at the Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. And, according to Belousek, it has “been slowly moving its way around the country,” with signs appearing in yards as far west as Seattle.
“When I first heard about this sign back in October. I just thought it was sort of a beautiful message. Jesus talks about the call to love neighbors, but also the call to love enemies. So I think it speaks of Jesus’ call to bless and love and welcome.”
Belousek noted that her effort to bring this campaign to the Lima area is not officially sponsored by her church. It is, rather, something she decided to take upon herself after a visit to the Mennonite seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, several weeks ago. “I actually picked up one of the signs there and brought it back,” she recalled. “And I thought, this is really silly, I should have brought more back. So I checked around to see if people were interested.”
Several Mennonite friends in Bluffton were indeed interested, so they decided to have the lawn signs printed up locally.
Coming, as it does, on the heels of the recent Executive Order closing U.S. borders to visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations, it might seem that the campaign is political in nature. Belousek, however, dismissed this interpretation of the signs and their meaning. As noted, the signs first appeared in October, before the presidential election, at a time when it was widely assumed that Hillary Clinton would emerge as the winner. Belousek also pointed out that the sign she herself planted in her front yard was there before the Executive Order was signed.
“I put the sign on my lawn on Thursday, and on Friday we heard about the Executive Order. It’s not necessarily a response to the President’s Executive Order blocking people from seven countries and refugees, but it certainly speaks to this sense of Christian welcome and openness. People can perceive them as political in some way. But that’s not the primary purpose. It’s really just a word of blessing and encouragement. And I think in communities where this has happened, where people have seen the signs, it’s really been a great bridge builder.”
As evidence, she cites some of the personal testimonies offered by followers of the “Welcome Your Neighbors” page on Facebook. She was particularly struck by a post written by Lee Zimmerman Murray, of Seattle. Murray said, “We live in Seattle. We have a Welcome Neighbors sign in our yard that we got at our church, Seattle Mennonite. Today we received this gift from our neighbor, Abdul. He lives in the condos next door. We had not met him before today. He painted it for us. It says Peace in Arabic calligraphy. He wanted to thank us for our message of welcome. A moment of beauty in these times.”
One could, perhaps, view that as a political act. But Belousek believes that it’s something bigger than that.
“I think that that is part of our calling,” she said, “to be thinking bigger than just ourselves. As Christians, we are connected globally, to the global church, and if we take seriously Jesus’ call to love stranger or enemy, then we have to be concerned about the whole world.”
Reach Dayton Fandray at [email protected]