Dr. Jamal Gabobe (second from left) enjoys the soup supper before his presentation about Somalia and his life as a Somali immigrant to the U.S. For more photos, click here.
By Jesse N. Love and Mary L. Walker | Additional photos by Ken Free
“It was a real eye-opener to hear their stories and to get acquainted with them,” shares Blythe Stanton “Great story. (It) evoked images of Stalinism and persecution. The song they sang was painful and heartwarming at the same time,” shares Jim Rowley. “My favorite of course was the Chinese presentation. Inspiring!” exclaims Sandra Shinbo.
These are reactions from members of Federal Way United Methodist Church after experiencing “Stories of Pain and Hope”, a weekly Lenten speaker series offering a glimpse into the lives of different cultures and faiths – with a specific focus on the challenges of immigrant life. Around 50 visitors joined in fellowship for each of these speaking events. This is the second year Federal Way has shared “Stories”.
“We were inspired to know and understand our neighbors by hearing about their history and immigrant experience in our area,” shares Mary L. Walker. She served as the chair FWUMC’s Adult Faith Formation Team, which was responsible for this series. Guest speakers this year included:
- Mark Hearn: a Korean immigrant a teacher at Seattle University who used Lego building blocks to illustrate how the immigrant experience is always changing, particularly with new rules and regulations
- Bettie Luke: a member of the Organization of Chinese Americans who shared their history in the Northwest as well as how racism still affects Asians today
- Jamal Gabobe: a Comparative Literature instructor at the University of Washington, Tacoma who shared the history of Somalia and his own experience as an immigrant
- The Rev. Peter Chebotareva and family: recent immigrants who shared experiences of Christian persecution in the Ukraine
- Federal Way congregation: six immigrants who are from England, Fiji, and Tonga who all shared their experience of the immigration system as well as familial traditions and “lost in translation” moments
Although the goals were similar to last year’s series, what made this event different was hearing the experience of its own church members. Not only did the church learn about their neighbors, but they learned more about their own faith family through deeper sharing than casual conversation on a regular Sunday.
Stories of Pain and Hope have given attendees a greater appreciation of freedom and has increased faith and hope for a better world. “I hope to be more understanding of challenges that people of faith (other than Christianity) and people who have come to our country to make their home, have to meet,” shares Blythe Stanton.
Sharing each other’s stories in the community has become even more vital as prejudice, xenophobia, and emboldened attitudes against ‘the strangers’ in our midst arise. Pastor Nancy Ferree-Clark shares how these conversations bore fruit between her congregation and the Sikh community, “After the recent shooting of the Sikh man in Kent, we contacted them to say we’d like to give them a prayer shawl. They asked if we could deliver it in person along with a word of hope, which we did during their Sunday gathering the week after the shooting.”
Federal Way UMC now has a relationship with a Sikh congregation, an Islamic Center, and a Jewish synagogue. The Church attends their services while Sikh members offer music and stories with the Church. Members of the Islamic Center were welcomed at Sunday worship at Federal Way UMC, as well.
“As pastor I’ve also observed that as we tear down the walls that separate us and actually get to know each other, fear of the stranger is overcome and we want to befriend one another,” Ferree-Clark explains.
Currently, Federal Way UMC has future plans to visit a Gurdwara later in spring as they continue to nurture relationships deeper into the community.
Mary L. Walker is a member of Federal Way UMC serving on its Adult Faith Formation Team.
Jesse N. Love serves as graphic designer and print manager for the PNWUMC.