How Serving Refugees Contributes to Global Peace

by Jim Mullins

The word carniceria can be found in shopping malls all over Phoenix. In Spanish, the word means “meat market.” Most of these carnicieria’s are owned by entrepreneurs from a Latin American background. However, there is one not far from my house called Somali Carniceria. It’s a fully functioning store that serves the East African community of East Phoenix. Instead of buying a new sign, the owners adapted the sign that was left behind from a Latino butcher that had formerly rented the space, making a Hispanic-Somali monument to the layered diversity of Phoenix.

Next to this Somali store, there are two Somali restaurants, Somali clothing shops, bookstores, driving schools, Internet cafes, coffee shops, and many other businesses owned by Somalis. Some people call this neighborhood “Little Mogudishu” because it’s where many of the 20,000+ Somalis in Phoenix congregate. Almost all of the stores in this area were once filled with Spanish speaking owners; now they are filled by Somali owners. That’s why you often find interesting signs that say, Halal Carniciera. One generation of immigrants moves up the economic latter and out of the neighborhood, and another generation, often from another country, moves in.

These neighborhoods are often referred to as “ethnic enclaves” and get nicknames like Tehrangeles (Iranian neighborhood in L.A.), China Town, and Little Istanbul (Paterson, N.J.). However, journalist Doug Sanders has named these places “Arrival Cities,” because these neighborhoods can serve as vital transition neighborhoods where one generation of immigrants moves from rural poverty in their home country to the central life of an American city. 

Many followers of Jesus like to reference Jeremiah 29:7 and the Biblical example of “seeking the peace of the city,” but this concept can often be abstract. This often leads people to ask, “How can I seek the peace of my city? I’m just a normal person without much influence.”

One way that you can have an impact on local and international peace is by focusing on the arrival city in your area. Offer yourself as a servant to these neighborhoods, because these places have the most potential for conflict or peace. Doug Sanders says that arrival cities are, “the places where the next great economic and cultural boom will be born or where the next great explosion of violence will occur. The difference depends on our ability to notice and our willingness to engage.”

Potential for Peace

The United States is a country that was built by ambitious immigrants with an entrepreneurial spirit. Many of our forefathers came to the U.S. with empty pockets and a heart full of dreams. They accepted the invitation that’s etched on the statue of Liberty that says, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free!" I get inspired to think of my Dutch or Irish ancestors reading those words and then laying their hand to the plow that tilled this often prosperous country.

America has continued to welcome immigrants, and that has been a key factor in the fruitfulness of this country. Many of the great institutions in America are led by Americans whose parents or grandparents came from places like China, Africa, Italy, or India. One of the keys to peace and flourishing in America is to see these arrival cities, and new immigrant populations, as integral parts of society, containing the entrepreneurial seed that will help our community flourish. 

Remember Jeremiah’s exhortation regarding shalom: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:7 ESV).”

Potential for Violence 

Arrival cities are also filled with the potential for violence when they lack livable areas, employment opportunities, good schools, access to healthy food, and the other aspects of a thriving community. When people lack opportunity and some degree of hope, they can easily become vulnerable targets for proponents of violence like terrorists or gang leaders.

Poverty and violence are often connected. Take, for example, the issues of terrorism and gang violence. Both promote sick practices that destroy nations, neighborhoods, families, and individuals. Things like drive-by shootings and suicide bombs cannot, in any way, be justified. However, gang violence and terrorism are often a responses to a lack of opportunity or the abundance of oppression. If you truly care about reducing violence and working against terrorism, then choose to work for the peace of the arrival city, because in promoting their peace, you will also promote your own peace.

How to Seek the Peace of the Arrival City

1) Show up at the airport - Many refugee resettlement agencies have programs that allow you to meet new refugees at the airport, help set up their apartment, and show them the ropes for their first few weeks in America. More than the tangible help you provide, your friendship can encourage the heart of a refugee who has been separated from his or her friends, family, and all that is familiar.

2) Hire - If you own a business or have some influence on the hiring process, consider hiring new refugees and providing employment. 

3) Teach English - Speaking English is vital part of a person’s ability to flourish and function in the United States. It may seem like teaching English is too difficult, but most of us have been mastering this language all our lives. Simply being available for conversations can provide much-needed language practice.

Peace Catalyst International has a refugee program that helps facilitate these types of things. Contact us if you are interested in starting something like this in your area. We're especially interested in helping Christians and Muslim groups do this as a multifaith service initiative. We believe that serving the international newcomer is an important aspect of seeking justice and peace in our cities and tipping the global dominoes toward thriving communities and multidimensional reconciliation.