Near the end of 2016, my good friend Susan invited me to participate in a new group she and a friend had initiated. I was there at one of the first meetings when the group adopted the name Capital Area New Mainers Project, CANMP for short, pronounced camp – so very appropriate for Maine! The purpose of the group is to welcome and support immigrants in the Augusta – Waterville area. In particular, Susan asked me to consider being on the transportation working group, since I work at Maine DOT and have studied and participated in different Rides ministries.
After the first meeting I was excited about having found such a good fit for sharing my gifts. I volunteered to be the note-taker for the transportation subgroup. But it wasn’t long before that bliss was crowded out by anxieties about recent controversy around US immigration policy. Might people at work, or in my neighborhood, or even people within the church, be critical of CANMP or of me for participating in it?
I turned to the biblical witness, or I should say it turned to me; I can’t remember which was first. Soon after Christmas, my pastor Ned Crockett preached on the lectionary reading Matthew 2:13 – 23, the familiar story of Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt with Jesus, who was still an infant. I made the connection that many of the immigrants here and in other countries are doing the same thing – fleeing for safety. I also thought about the story of Jacob and his twelve sons in Genesis 43 – 47. They were moving, also to Egypt, to avoid starvation. There were fewer than 100 people in Jacob’s extended family; most of them are mentioned by name in Genesis 46:8 – 27. This group joined Joseph and his family of four already in Egypt. Out of this small group came ancient Israel, the Diaspora that started in Jeremiah’s time, and Judaism as we know it today – tens of millions of people, who have made tremendous contributions to the world community over thousands of years.
The Bible teaches by these examples, but also by direct commands. “Don’t take advantage of a stranger. You know what it’s like to be a stranger; you were strangers in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9, The Message) Older translations (like KJV and RSV) use the word stranger, but the newer translations I looked at use the word alien. This reflects what it must be like to be in a culture different from one’s own – and how different these folks seem to us when they come into our culture. Leviticus 19:33 (RSV) challenges “love [the stranger] as yourself”. Leviticus 23:22 commands leaving gleanings in the fields so that the poor and the stranger can make an honest living by gathering them. In Matthew’s account of the last judgment, the king (usually equated with the Son of Man, who is Jesus himself) commends those who welcomed him when he was a stranger (Matthew 25:35) and then later explains “Truly I tell you, just as you [welcomed] one of the least of these [strangers] who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) When I attended a “Welcoming New Mainers” potluck supper in February I shared a table with several CANMP volunteers and four Afghani girls and women. My friend Susan, speaking slowly and clearly, said to the two teenage girls, “Do you see all these people here?” (We were in a middle school cafeteria.) “All of them are glad you are here.” That is welcoming.
In its first months CANMP has given dozens of rides, perhaps over one hundred by now. But the drivers are doing much more than taking passengers from point A to point B. They are helping the new Mainers to communicate with medical offices; find their way to wholesome reasonably- priced food in our big-box stores; and much more. It’s hard even to imagine how strange our culture must feel to those from so far away. Even with the steep language barrier, the drivers have found ways to establish rapport, and the new Mainers have offered hospitality. The drivers and organizers find this work deeply rewarding.
Besides notes on three meetings, my biggest contribution so far has been a complicated flowchart. After about a month of experience, the group spent close to an hour discussing all the challenges of providing rides, from matters of principle down to details like steep driveways. Taking another hour or two I was able to get this all onto one page - with lots of words, colors, arrows and shapes. The other CANMP organizer allowed that “it was a little intimidating at first”! But she then went on to say that the flowchart actually had been quite helpful in explaining the process to a new volunteer. It made my day to hear that my engineering skills (and also my United Methodist tendency to want to organize things) had made a valuable contribution to an organization that is doing good work. So far I have not volunteered to drive, partly because I’m not available when most of the rides are needed, but also partly out of fear. I wear hearing aids, so conversation (especially on the telephone) can be difficult. I’m afraid that adding in the language barrier would make it nearly impossible for me to succeed as the other drivers have. But I’m trying to stay open to God’s leading on this. Some rides are needed on Saturdays, and I know that if God calls me to do something, God will also give me the ability to do it.
A closing note: upon seeing that overall CANMP has as many volunteers as there are new Mainers in the capital area, I had this thought: there are current Mainers who also could benefit from the kind of support that CANMP is providing. (Besides transportation this includes family mentoring teams and English as a 2nd Language classes.) Along those lines I plan to attend a forum sponsored by the UMA Senior College: “Getting There When You Can’t Drive”. It is free and will be held Sunday, March 19, at 2:00 PM in Jewett Hall on the University of Maine Augusta campus. See http://www.uma.edu/announcements/forum-getting-cant-drive-march-19th/ Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn more about the event at UMA or about CANMP.
Grace and peace to you,
Anne Carter is a member of the Winthrop United Methodist Church and a candidate for Deacon. She recently completed a Master of Theological Studies degree at Boston University School of Theology.
Karen L Munson
A pastor and artist, I'm wondering while I'm wandering through God's marvelous creation.