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Warm Weather Welcome: Seven Ways You Can Make this Summer Soar for New Americans
By Shane Bennett
Editor’s note: Several of the ideas in this month’s Practical Mobilization column are US-specific, though with a little creativity, most can be adapted to other settings.
Here in the northern hemisphere, summer is just around the corner: Long days, warm nights, and no school. Schedules often get a change up this time of year. The seasonal shift closes some doors, but opens some interesting other ones.
What if you decided to do something different this year? What if you wove into your summer plans creative efforts to extend care to some of the most overlooked people in your city? If you wedge into your summer schedule some time with refugees and others from outside America (or your country), a few things may happen: Some precious people will experience God’s blessing, your life will be richer for the experience and effort, and your kids will learn a few swear words in a new language!
To get started, you’ll want to find two things: info about where refugees live near you and some friends to join you. Check out this helpful map to see what refugee agencies work where. Contact them to find out who’s coming to your town, who’s already at work to serve refugees, and how you and your friends can help.
To gather allies? Encourage your church to recognize National Refugee Sunday on June 26th. Then show the amazing film, The Good Lie to further sensitize your church to the challenges refugees face settling into a new country. Pass around a sign-up sheet or pay attention to who attends so you can follow up with specific invitations and ways to respond.
1. Host a Sports Clinic
Draft some high school students from the youth group to host a four-day intro to American sports. Spend a day each on football, baseball, and basketball. On day four, allow participants to double down on their favorite sport, then award certificates. Know a famous, or even marginally famous, sports figure? Ask them to show up early in the week to build interest or to attend a special wrap-up event.
2. Arrange a Muslim Awareness Day
Here’s an idea that would work great with families. Set aside a day to open your minds and hearts to Muslims in your city. Begin with an hour or so of introduction to Islam. If you can’t find someone better, you can do this! Check out Fouad Masri’s book, Ambassadors to Muslims for accessible fodder for training. In pairs, hit the streets of the densest Muslim neighborhood you can find for two to three hours of fun with a cultural scavenger hunt. The basic idea is to nudge your friends into conversations with Muslims. Here’s a sample from Amsterdam. Tally up the points and pick a winner over lunch at a pre-arranged ethnic restaurant. Round out the day with a guided tour of a local mosque and a solid hour to debrief the day’s experiences.
3. Organize a Foreign-friendly VBS
If your city has lot of kids from somewhere else (and a correspondingly high number of tired moms who raise them!), you may want to consider hosting a Vacation Bible School program. Some standard VBS activities translate easily from culture to culture, like that relay where you pop balloons with your bum! That’s global fun! Others, however, might be best left in the closet if your participants are Muslim, not Methodist. I’m thinking of the Salvation Story Bead Bracelet and the Macaroni Cross Craft, which might not go over so well when kids take them home. A brilliant friend and practitioner in the Southwestern US has developed a VBS curriculum that’s biblical, fun, and still honoring to Muslim kids and their parents. She’s had kids come back year after year and parents happily participate in closing celebration events. Email me for a copy of the curriculum.
4. Start a Summer Reading Group
Maybe your own kids are all you want to wrangle this summer. How about pulling together a reading group for adults? Raise some funds to hire baby sitters, advertise around refugee centers and neighborhoods, then get together for an hour to practice reading. Depending on the composition of the group, you may want to keep it pretty simple. If English language capacity is sufficient, I’d recommend Leif Enger’s Peace like a River for a group read. It’s funny, poignant, and has a description of heaven that never fails to make me cry. Plenty of great stuff to talk about.
5. Visit the Farm
Gather twenty to thirty refugee kids and parents, secure the necessary permissions, insurance, and vehicles, then get out of the city! Find a farm with some animals to pet, some work to do, and a kindly old farming couple who tell great stories! If you can’t find a kindly old farmer, a ride on a tractor is a close second. If you return home with bushels of free zucchini, there’s a good chance you found a farm in Indiana.
6. Head to the Hills with International Students
America in the summer is magical. But if your home is China or Saudi Arabia, it can be a challenging time. Check with a local university to see if they’ll help you link up with international students who are staying over the summer. Invite a carload of them on a hike to a nearby mountain, wetland, or forest. Hit up a local eatery on the way home.
7. Fasting and Fireworks
When we were newly arrived in England a dear Afghan family from down the road invited us to shoot fireworks with them to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day. The commemoration, as fascinating as it is, meant little to either them or us. But I’ll never forget the warmth and kindness I felt at being invited to share it with them.
This year’s Ramadan fast ends on July 5th. Can I encourage you to invite a Muslim family over on July 4th to eat (after the sun has set) and watch some fireworks with you? If they’re newcomers, it’s a great time to humbly share about America. It’s also a good time to learn about Ramadan and celebrate its near completion.
I’m grateful to God that he’s bringing the nations to our neighborhoods. Success to you as you seek to be a good neighbor this summer. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about doing to make this summer soar for newcomers. Please share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, or through comments on our website.