Okay, I totally wasn’t going to write about this. Really, I mean besides being kind of funny on some memes – is it really worth talking about? I mean should I give my time to she who speaks lies?
Unfortunately, yes, and in this instance she’s hit home for me. As this RevGal was born and raised in the town of Bowling Green.
Home to the Corvette plant, Western Kentucky University and Fruit of the Loom Bowling Green is a located in south central Kentucky about an hour north of Nashville, Tennessee. Fun fact, when I was growing up we had more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the country. AND as of a few years ago (maybe still) you could see several pictures of me in the entry way of the Applebee’s.
Bowling Green is one of these “small cities” where housing is plentiful and there’s need for all kinds of skill sets in jobs and so resettlement works. There is a sense of community and refugees thrive, thanks to the people in town who work hard to make it happen.
In high school I was asked to show two students around who had recently been resettled from Bosnia. They were sisters. My teacher thought I could help navigate the confusion of the lunch line for them, as the teachers could usher them from class to class, but when it came to lunch time, students were on their own.
As I walked with these sisters down the hall I talked and talked until I realized, they didn’t understand a word I was saying. Wide eyed with looks of excitement and skepticism, we went through the line, they got exactly what I did. A baked potato with nacho cheese, sour cream, and “bacon bits”. They picked at it but never ate it (not that I blame them).
I tried to have discussion during lunch but not a word was understood, and I did that awkward, “talk loud and slow as if they couldn’t hear me” thing. Guess what? Not the problem.
Three years later we all graduated together, one of the sisters was in the top 10 of the class. They spoke fluent english and had thrived in our small town. I remember looking at them on graduation day in awe of everything they had been through, I remember seeing smiles and hearing laughter as they walked through the halls with friends. I was proud of them, proud of who they were and to know them.
My senior year I met another refugee from Bosnia, he was in my youth group at church. On a retreat he once described what it was like to live under a hostile regime. He had gone to the market one day, at just a few moments after arriving men with machine guns appeared and killed everyone in the square.
Somehow he had survived. After that his family moved to a refugee camp and after a long vetting process, to the U.S. and were resettled in Bowling Green. He wept with survivors guilt, wondering why those people died and he had lived. Wondering what God’s purpose was for his life. Wondering how his family had been so lucky to get out when so many others were left in camps. We all wept and wondered in awe.
And if these two experiences weren’t enough for me to care about the refugees of my hometown (besides the fact that my faith calls me to care for all refugees) then one more experience would.
My former mother-in-law, Patricia Meacham, taught citizenship classes and is now an ESL teacher for Western Kentucky University. She also helps orient international students to the culture of the city as well as helping them with their English. She has countless stories – some sad, some funny, all inspiring – about the people she serves.
According to her, about 10% of BG’s population are refugees. The International Refugee Center of Kentucky which is in Bowling Green and Owensboro have taken in around 10,000 refugees over the years. And she’s right.
So currently, in a town of about 60,000 people 5-6,000 are refugees and even more have already become citizens (some thanks to Patti!). But it’s not just that refugees randomly appear with everything in place. There is a whole system of townspeople who donate beds, clothing, linens, cars, offer jobs and safe haven. And not all who help in the resettlement are paid, hundreds of volunteers make this happen. Last year they resettled over 400 refugees, 40 of them from Syria.
The town of Bowling Green is a shining example of caring for the stranger in their midst when it comes to refugees. Could they be better? Sure, everyone can. And in 2011 when two men went to trial and pled guilty to terrorist plots, our country temporarily paused it’s resettlement until adjustments could be made and they were. So even if KellyAnne misspoke, she’s still wrong.
In the almost 20 years since I left for college the town has grown almost 25,000 people, it has thrived and expanded and become widely more diverse, some thanks to refugees.
There are many things about the city of Bowling Green I could complain about but their example of a refugee city? Not one of them. I am proud of that fact and will stand up to anyone who disagrees.
I like to think that my teacher entrusted those scared young women in my care, because she trusted that I would be welcoming. I grew up with resettled refugees all around me and their stories are part of me today and has helped shape my faith and my humanity.
I welcome refugees into this country and into my life because my ancestors were once strangers in a strange land and someone welcomed them. I welcome them because radical hospitality is the way of Christ. I welcome them because my life has changed for the better by diversity, of race, creed, sexual orientation, and human experience.
So thank you Bowling Green, keep up the good work.
Photo by Becca Schimmel
The Reverend Shannon Meacham is the mother of two exhausting children Maggie and Gus, and she currently serves Ashland Presbyterian Church in the safest part of Baltimore, the suburbs. You can find her musings about any and all subjects on her personal blog pulpitshenanigans.com.
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