Yesterday something happened that makes me especially proud of Springfield, the city where I serve as the pastor of Central Christian Church.
Over the last year or so between 4,000-7,000 Haitian immigrants and refugees have settled in Springfield. Yesterday was Haitian Flag day and the City of Springfield worked with leaders in the Haitian community to help them come together to celebrate this important Haitian holiday. According to event organizers, Haitian flag day is a celebration of “a pivotal moment in [Haiti’s] fight against slavery, as Haiti became the first country in the world to achieve independence through a successful slave rebellion.” In the morning the City hosted an event where our new neighbors were invited to fly the Haitian flag downtown in City Hall Plaza. In the afternoon they made the Veterans Park Amphitheater available for the Haitian Flag Day Fair and Festival.
Yesterday was a busy day for me as a pastor and it wasn’t until 8:00 p.m. that I was able to make it to their event. I went because Jesus told me to. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ most well known sermon, Jesus called his followers to greet people who are strangers. Strangers didn’t just apply to people whom we don’t know. It was a specific word referring to immigrants and refugees. He went on to say that if we don’t greet strangers, we are no better than pagans.
Immigrants and refugees built the City of Springfield. Irish immigrants built the National Road. German immigrants donated the land and stone to build Wittenberg. Greek immigrants built a thriving entertainment industry. Scottish immigrants earned us the title of Rose City. Immigrants from India and Pakistan comprise a large share of the doctors and medical specialists who keep us alive. Latino immigrants operate some of Springfield’s most popular restaurants and provide labor for one of the city’s largest employers and contribute to a host of small businesses throughout the county. The list could go on and on and should also include our many black residents who migrated first from Africa and then from the south for jobs that supported the industrial strength of the city during the heyday of the early 1900’s.
I applaud our city leaders for seeing immigrants and refugees not as a threat but as an asset to the revitalization of our city and economy. I would love to see Springfield intentionally seek the reputation as Ohio’s most immigrant friendly small city. Such a designation would enrich our culture, repopulate some of our neighborhoods, and boost our economy. But most of all, it would please Jesus.
Here is a partial list of the offices and organizations that deserve special credit for the warm welcome extended to our new Haitian neighbors - the City of Springfield including the Manager’s Office, Service Department, Human Resource Office, and Community Development Office, the Springfield Police Division, and our great friends at St Vincent DePaul.