Refugees are a blessing: Unlikely allies for ecolinguists

A lover of language and culture (from the church website)
A lover of language and culture (from the church website)

Over the holiday weekend, I had the opportunity to talk to a relative from Amarillo, Texas. She informed me of the recent controversy over refugees in her city.

The facts show that Amarillo receives the highest ratio of refugees per resident in any city in Texas. In 2012, for example, Amarillo received 480 total refugees, in a city of 195,000 residents.

To put this in perspective, the US accepts around 70,000 to 80,000 refugees each year since the number was reduced in 1996, and Texas receives the largest amount: 11% in 2015.

A controversy is raging in Amarillo. I will discuss here two local voices, one on each side of the issue in the Amarillo Globe-News: David L. Smith, a resident of Amarillo, and Pastor Howard K. Batson, head pastor of First Baptist Amarillo.

Natural allies for ecolinguists dwell in unexpected places…

The difference between the views of Mr. Smith and Pastor Batson lies in the value placed on the refugees. As Smith put it, “My question is how do these refugees compliment us and make our area better and safer?”

Cons: Costs and Threats

Smith answers his own question by laying out the costs that the refugees impose. For example, since the refugee children do not know English, the schools must spend money to bring them up to language standards. Language “deficiencies” also drive issues and costs with the health system, such as hospitals, and emergency services, like 911 dispatch.

He further mentioned the potential security threat from refugees. While Muslims are not all terrorists, we only find out who the bad ones are when it’s too late. Moreover, he expresses the potential desire for Muslims to undermine Christian culture.

Smith’s article lacks any first-hand experience with the refugees. He also lacks facts, and implies scenarios that contradict reality.

Pros: Diversity and blessings

Pastor Batson, in contrast, argues for the value of refugees for the community. He does not argue against the responsibility for the community to care for them, but explicitly brings out the “blessing” that they bring.

He appreciates the strength of the refugees’ faith. Many of them fled their home countries specifically because their governments persecuted them for their religion. They bring an important perspective to the members of Batson’s congregation.

He gives examples of people from his own church who are educating themselves and working hard to better the community, as well.

Finally, he believes that a diverse population in his city will allow its residents “to see the world through new lenses.” His congregation seeks to serve all nations, and all the nations are coming to Amarillo. He is excited that his children grew up with children from Sudan. Hospitality is a clear focus of his teaching.

I looked at the church’s Bible studies, and I saw that they have special studies for Burmese, Burundi, Laotian, and Vietnamese, as well as a general “International” group. They also employ full-time Vietnamese and Laotian ministers. The Pastor said in an interview that his greatest joy is that they preach in five different languages every Sunday.

Allies

I’m excited to read such strong support for refugees from this pastor. In spite of residents and a mayor who are suspicious of the cost associated with them, Pastor Batson argues publicly for their value. While he speaks of the responsibility to take care of them, he spends most of the article addressing how the community benefits.

Since this pastor clearly represents a conservative, Baptist church, I was expecting Muslims to be left out of the picture. He delightfully surprised me by referring to a “cosmopolitan community” and a “diverse population” as ways for people to learn how to see the world through new lenses.

Seeing allies for diverse languages and cultures—he calls out both explicitly—among conservative, evangelical Christians heartened me. This one, especially, spoke out publicly directly responding to a xenophobic article by citing the Bible: “Do not forget to welcome strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2, NCV).

Supporters of ecolinguism can come from anywhere!

Where do you think we can find more ecolinguistic allies? Where haven’t we looked? Where have you found surprising allies?
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