To the left is a map of the major mosques within 5 miles of my house. I limited my search to the Bronx, but you get the idea. That’s a lot of mosques for an area less than half the size of Abilene, Tx.
This morning we hosted a small group from the Amarillo church I grew up in. They were passing through the city on their way back from working at a summer camp for urban youth, many of whom come from the neighborhoods around where we live. The ten of them stopped by for breakfast and we got a chance to debrief about their camp session while Carey and I shared with them about our first couple weeks here; and it’s easy as a host and now New Yorker to be proud about the diversity of the city. It’s a multi-cultural hub that’s easy to recognize. What’s harder to recognize is that its globalized make-up is no longer rare in the United States; every city is experiencing this same influx of international people groups.
For example, take a look at the three mosques within 10 miles of our home congregation in Lewisville, Tx. Lewisville is not generally thought of as a of multi-ethnic/religious community. In fact I think the stereotypical profile of this part of Dallas would be the “White/Evangelical/Republican/2.3 kids/etc,” but if you dig a little deeper into the actual make-up of that community you find that the truth is actually much more interesting. Look how many Halal (that’s Kosher food for Muslims if you’re not familiar with Halal) restaurants are within driving distance from our home church:
And that’s not even mentioning the Indian and Korean businesses which also dominate the area, or the Pop Eye’s Chicken I eat at when I’m there where they answer the drive-through in Spanish, or the Nepalese church which meets in the building of our home congregation. It’s more global than you might think.
Maybe I haven’t made my case, Lewisville after all is in Dallas which is a major urban area. What about my home town and considerably less urban area of Amarillo: What town is more cowboy (by which I mean less international) than my George Straight beloved home? In the last ten years it’s estimated that 40% of the population growth in Amarillo was due to immigration. The Tyson meat packing plant draws many through secondary immigration from other primary immigration points in the US, as people move away from port cities like NYC in order to find more stable employment and higher compensation; there are also large numbers of refugees relocated to the city through Refugee Services of Texas as well as other religious organizations designed to help relocate political and religious refugees.
In fact, in 2012 more refugees were resettled in Texas than any other state and Amarillo, of every city in the state, received the highest ratio of those displaced; the majority of whom are from Myanmar, Iran, and Sudan (not to mention the over 1500 member Vietnamese diaspora which is now two or three generations American born). More than 2700 refugees have been relocated to Amarillo in the last 5 years, that’s roughly 1.5% of the city’s population, not accounting for any other forms of immigration. Or what about the over600 refugees relocated to Abilene, Tx (many from the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in the last several years alone?
And what about your city? How global is your local community? Some of the answers may surprise you, they may challenge us to think about immigration and mission in very different ways than we have up until now. Because the world is shrinking and the make-up of every city and town is becoming increasingly more global. How will we learn to recognize and love new neighbors?
Here are four tools for helping to understand our new neighbors-
Salatomatic is one of the most comprehensive networks of Mosques and Muslim schools. If there is an Islamic place of worship in your community, it’s probably on there. Many towns not large enough to support their own mosque still have many Halal restaurants, which I would encourage you to try because they are probably delicious. Zabihah is your guide to all food Halal.
Buddhanet and USA Temples are great sites to find local places of worship among your Buddhist and Hindu neighbors. All of these are helpful resources for not only learning who actually lives in your community but also may be ways to meet and form relationships cross-culturally.
So I’ll say again: the world is shrinking. But as our cities become increasingly global, if we’re to follow the call to love our neighbors, we need to first know who those neighbors are. Who are your neighbors? You may find that international cities such as New York are not as unique as they seem.