“How do we treat people?” This was the question Mayor Eric Niemann posed to me a few months back as we chatted about all things Philomath.
I assumed at the time that his mind would have been preoccupied with all the opportunities and challenges facing the city: growth, infrastructure, zoning and budgets. It was people, however, specifically newcomers to the area, that was on his mind.
I’ve given more thought to the mayor’s question. I’m certainly not an expert, but I do believe that my time in Philomath has taught me something about how people should be treated.
The Lucke family arrived as complete strangers a little over six years ago. We hadn’t ever met anyone from Philomath face-to-face before we pulled up in our car filled with belongings. What was this town like? Was it pronounced PHI-lo-math versus Phi-LO-math?
Many of the citizens of Philomath could have had great suspicion about our arrival and who we were. Consider our arrival for a moment. My wife, Alicia, was over 7 months pregnant with our second child — who moves when their wife is that far along?!? We came from Florida — who are the odd people with the strange license plate roaming our streets?!? Surely, some people must have thought that our arrival was strange.
Our arrival, however, was greeted with genuine warmth and welcome. The elders of our new church, Peace Lutheran, cleaned and prepared our rental home. Someone from the community purchased a gift basket for our coming baby. Numerous people greeted us. The pastors from the other churches in Philomath went out of their way to welcome and answer any questions. We were welcomed with open hearts and minds by everyone we met.
I realize that I’ve only been here a little over six years, this pales in comparison with many others who have lived many years in the community, but I feel that I am now in a position to warmly welcome the newcomers and strangers to Philomath. Some of the newcomers come with suspicion — much like I did. Why are they moving so far to come here? Boy — their Texas license plate looks odd!?!
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Questions and suspicion aside, it is my role to simply welcome as I was once welcomed. It means that I should have an eye out to do something extra for the visitor stopping by the church. It means that I should welcome someone that looks disoriented in a new setting.
A few weeks back, some visitors from Nevada City, California stopped by Peace. They explained that in a year or so they would be moving to Philomath and were desiring to find a church family to fellowship. They asked questions about the church and I gave them a tour, including the grounds outside that had been turned over for the expansion of our parking lot.
Much to my surprise, the visitor pulled out her checkbook and wrote a $300 check. Handing over the check, the women firmly stated, “We want to contribute ahead of time to what will be our future church.” These people had only been in Philomath for a few days and had not even attended one our services. Welcoming visitors has already been a blessing to our Peace church family!
It is my belief that God had a special way to remind His people, the Israelites, to treat people well. Surrounded by people of different backgrounds, beliefs and routines, the Israelites would have been tempted to treat others with contempt and disgust.
As the temptation increased to treat others with disdain, God reminded them of something important. “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).” When the Israelites paused to remember their time as strangers in a foreign land, it helped them treat the new people around them with respect and dignity.
From my experience, Philomath excels in warmly welcoming people into the community. This letter in the paper is to encourage us to keep it up. We can do even better! We can treat one another well and those who are new to us.
I am thankful to be a part of a community, from its leadership to its citizens, that seeks to treat people well.