I have so much respect and admiration for church co-sponsors. That may not be surprising coming from someone who spends most of her time trying to recruit co-sponsors, but it’s true.
Co-sponsorship isn’t always easy, but few truly worthwhile experiences are. It takes courage to choose to befriend a new refugee family you’ve never met. Just the first step—meeting a family at the airport, who may not speak your language, can be outside one’s comfort zone. Besides the potential awkwardness of meeting someone new, co-sponsorship is an emotional experience. It’s difficult to watch people you care about face barriers as they work towards becoming established. But, that vulnerability also opens you up to the possibility of being changed and receiving the gifts that refugees have to offer. It’s the relationship that leads to more welcoming and just communities.
“People view hospitality as quaint and tame partly because they do not understand the power of recognition. When a person who is not valued by society is received by a socially respected person or group as a human being with dignity and worth, small transformations occur…Many persons who are not valued by the larger community are essentially invisible to it. When people are socially invisible, their needs and concerns are not acknowledged and no one even notices the injustices they suffer. Hospitality can begin a journey toward visibility and respect.” (Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, 61-62, emphasis mine)
It would be a mistake to assume that this journey towards visibility and respect is all difficulty. As co-sponsors and refugees become friends, they laugh together at new experiences and share in each other’s joys. Sometimes the activities are quite ordinary—donating a table, giving a ride, and sometimes they’re extraordinary—sharing in the birth of a new family member, or mourning a loss together. Regardless, I hear over and over again from volunteers how much more they received than they gave. It’s a mutually transformative experience that proves the adage—‘tis more blessed to give than to receive.’
That’s why co-sponsors have my respect and gratitude. Their willingness to take a risk and be changed means that our society becomes more welcoming and just, one act at a time. And that is nothing short of miraculous.