Building community is central to Spirit in Action’s vision of empowerment and change. Our grants are about bringing people together – to plant a community garden, start a micro-savings group, educate girls – encouraging people to learn, work, and live together to improve a community.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the Small Business Fund grants spark families to work and achieve together. Similarly, and not surprisingly, at the core of our Community Grants program is a desire to bring people together in larger communities.
I Was a Stranger
For the last 40 days, Sojourners Magazine’s devotional emails have followed the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge, which used Bible verses about welcoming the stranger to highlight the need for just immigration reform in the U.S.
It surprised me just how much is in the Bible about the stranger. For example, “When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Over and over again, the Bible makes it pretty clear: treat people fairly, no matter where they come from; welcome them, because you never know when you might find yourself in need of hospitality.
Hospitality builds community, in part, because it is a gift to both the giver and receiver. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). Both the host and the hosted have the opportunity to meet angels.
Eight months ago I came to Canada – an immigrant – and I’ve received so much of the generous hospitality to newcomers. But just last week I was able to help a woman in the grocery store find what she needed, “I’m new in town,” she said by way of explanation. And so, I helped her, because I once was the newest newcomer. Plus, who knows, she might be an angel.
It’s Good For You
Welcoming all people as citizens is community-building. In our culture, we are used to focusing on the individual and we can forget the fact that most people are seeking connections and appreciate invitations to join community. Also, research shows that people in spiritual communities live longer and be in better health. This is not only because people are encouraged by their faith, but also because people in community – churches, meditation groups, prayer groups – are taken care of; people in community look after each other.
Spirit in Action grants are ways to build this community. The Manyamula Village Savings and Loans group established a social fund, along with their other business and lending activities. The cooperative, which now has 150 members, waives the initial fee for a number of widows and other poor in their community, so that they can join the group. This small act of generosity brings in the outsider, widens the community, and increases diversity all of which are crucial steps towards our goal of community and empowerment.