How Children Can Learn to Welcome

How Children Can Learn to Welcome

Dana and I founded Treetops in the midst of a busy season of motherhood. With toddlers and babies in tow, we scribbled ideas on post-its, gathered the community for listening sessions, and took baby steps, and a couple of bold steps, to launch this organization.

A central motivator for us as mothers was the desire to create the kind of community where all women can flourish, use their gifts, and create opportunities for their kids to love and be loved—to truly belong.

Dana and I both had cross-cultural experiences, across the world and through relationships in our home-towns, that shaped how we see others and why we grew to celebrate what they can teach us.

But how do our children learn to appreciate these things now? How can we steward them in their bouncy, baby curls and preschool musings to begin wondering about their neighbors, ask questions, and take their first steps at being active, global citizens?

Tonight, as I laid my five-year-old son Lincoln to bed, he prayed for children with empty bellies to find rest and food, and he asked God to be with people fleeing across borders. He prayed for leaders’ hearts to soften and for them to be moved to welcome people. This, maybe more than anything else, prompts me to share how open dialogue can shape little hearts.

As mothers, having conversations about the world and all of its truth requires vulnerability and risk.

It opens up the door to uncomfortable questions about pain, about the goodness of God, and about our part in changing some of the problems we see. The answers, if we can even stumble to them, do not come buttoned up with pretty bows, however they do allow us to open the door to empathy and compassion, to lament, and maybe even to fresh growth of boldness and passion—that these tiny people can attempt to believe that better days have something to do with them. That TOGETHER we can do something, in our little corner, in our little town.

I'm so happy that Lincoln has a friend like Abdullah to look up to. He is the son of my friend and co-worker, Nadia Hamad. Currently in 4th grade, Abdullah is brotherly and kind, playful and honest, and an exceptional student. He and Nadia arrived in the U.S. as refugees five years ago, when Abdullah was just three years old.

Recently, my boys, Abdullah, and I lead a conversation for children in a series called "Let's Talk About Refugees" at the Wyoming Branch of the Kent District Library.

Abdullah bravely read "The Journey" about a family who loses their father in a war and artfully conveys their dangerous journey to find a new home. He also read "Where Will I Live?" with photos depicting children in the global refugee crisis asking questions, such as: Where will I sleep? Will I find a friend?

Abdullah masterfully read these books in his second language of English, modeling his teacher's technique of holding the book up so that all the photos could be readily seen by the audience, as he answered questions from the children in attendance.

I followed up by reading "All Are Welcome," which is set in a diverse classroom where everyone has something unique to share. As a group, we talked about what it feels like to do something new, how they feel welcome in a place, how they've included a new student in their class, what it would feel like to leave everything you know, and what it feels like to be afraid.

They asked detailed questions like, "what is the difference between an immigrant and a refugee" and how long families wait before being able to find a new home. They then wrote postcards to welcome new neighbors with messages like, "It's safe here" and "we are so happy you are here."

I'm so grateful that these are the kinds of conversations our community is creating space for, not just for adults, but for children too! I’m encouraged that librarians, teachers, churches, neighbors and listening mamas are deciding to recognize the capacity for children to engage with real topics intellectually.

Together, we can shape a generation that is ready to address the challenges of this world with their heads as well as their hearts. I can't wait to see what they do!

Other Resources

Additionally, there are about a dozen new books coming out this fall focused on connecting young audiences with dynamic refugee characters, specifically young, resilient Muslim refugee children, humanizing people that have been feared and a topic that has been politicized.

And, just because this makes me happy - read here about how through a large grant, Sesame Street is set to speak into the lives of Syrian refugees.

Also, I can't even. Try not to cry.