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What can we do? In a time where our country reflects divisive mistrust and conflict over immigration, a diverse group of people gathered at St. Timothy Lutheran Church in St. Paul to share stories of immigration and encounters with “the other” in our community. Eighteen people - representing native-born Americans as well as immigrants from Benin, Pakistan, Ecuador, the Philippines, Korea and Paraguay - gathered to talk together about their stories. This group of Christians, Muslims, and people who are not part of any faith community, spent a Friday evening and Saturday morning together, sharing the gifts of presence and openness. It was a rich experience that deepened each participant’s understanding of our shared humanity.
Our conversation was sponsored by Narrative 4, a conversation-based project working to break down barriers and open up empathy between people who may otherwise believe that they have little in common. Dr. Dawn Duncan, professor at Concordia College in Moorhead, is a Narrative 4 trainer who brought this international model to Minnesota. Serving as the event facilitator, Ellen Benavides split the group into pairs. On Friday evening, each pair shared a personal story with each other. We reconvened on Saturday morning and the group gathered in a circle where each pair shared the story of their partner in first-person discourse.
The stories shared the challenges and blessings of learning from others. They showed us ways of looking into the face of another and seeing their dignity. One participant voiced the hope of being able to see the likeness of God in the other. Another made clear she did not wish to be treated as a token but to be received simply as a Minnesotan. Several emphasized that no one emigrates from a beloved home country unless desperate for a taste of peace and well-being that can only be found elsewhere.
This empathy-building exercise opened a space for vulnerability and presence. The conversations were a gift.
Our hope is to deepen the connections from this group and to foster many more of these Narrative 4 conversations in our communities. To learn more about Narrative 4, visit www.narrative4.com. Dr. Dawn Duncan, a regional trainer for Narrative 4, can be reached for more information at email@example.com. A story about her work with Narrative 4 ran on MPR last June, and can be read here.
The Rev. Hans Jorgensen
St. Timothy's Lutheran, St. Paul