On October 28th, Calvary Community church in St. Cloud hosted a one-day conference on how the church can better engage and love our Somali neighbors. The event was a collaborative effort between Transform Minnesota, Arrive Ministries, and the St. Cloud Evangelical Network for Transformation (SENT Network). Through various panel discussions and seminars, those present heard from a wide variety of individuals involved in Somali communities including Karen who works within Somali ministry, David Pestel from Arrive Ministries, and Ed and Joy Loewen who joined us from Winnipeg. Each offered a unique perspective on connecting with Somalis with greater cultural compassion and awareness.
Karen shared about her time in Somalia. She drew attention to family dynamics, particularly how families invest in their young children and the garnered value and respect for their elderly. She discussed Somali tribe mentality, no longer government regulated, but through a familial and cultural lens. She also offered contextualization for the Hijab and how its meaning has changed over the centuries from that of a traditional headscarf on the seventh day after a woman’s marriage, to a cultural and symbolic boundary set from within to maintain and preserve modesty.
“Listening conveys love.”Karen noted that she appreciates when she feels the church reach out to the Somali community. It is crucial, she added, to recognize that in assimilating to American culture, Somalis have had to let go of a lot of things and have been asked to hold onto some new things. Lastly Karen said that over the years she has learned that “listening conveys love”, and encouraged those interested in Somali ministry to listen carefully to the stories of others.
Cultural Dos and Don’ts
To better demonstrate cultural pitfalls, David Pestel engaged the audience in interactive role playing. After demonstrating how not to visit a Somali neighbor, he spent time brainstorming with the audience on ways to be winsome and welcoming. He covered speaking tones, greetings, body language, posture and conversation topics. Other areas of sensitivity included cross gender contact and dietary restrictions. He encouraged those gathered to be intentional with questions and mindful of culturally inappropriate topics or western clothing choices. Perhaps most importantly, David reminded the audience that beyond education and being polite, we need to proceed prayerfully: “I do not need to be concerned when I go visit my Somali neighbor because God has me covered. I’m good; He is guiding so I can go beyond a polite ‘Welcome to the neighborhood’; I can pray for them and be present with them.”
“I can go beyond a polite ‘Welcome to the neighborhood’; I can pray for them and be present with them.”
Clothing Yourself with Compassion and Kindness
Ed and Joy Loewen spoke on their individual yet combined Somali ministry efforts. These include Joy’s mentoring of others interesting in reaching Somalis, and her relationships with individual Somali women. Ed spoke on English as a Second Language (ESL), Somali Adult Literacy Training (SALT), his All Nation’s Sports Club, and various forms of mall and food court evangelism. Joy shared that the most important component of her desire to minister to Somalis was her transition from Islamophobia and xenophobia to compassion: “part of the problem is that we do not have conversations about our fears”. She advocated for involvement in one of the many pre-existing Somali ministries or for offering the simple, kind, and welcoming words: “I’m really happy you are here.”
“I’m really happy you are here.”
Ed shared the importance of involvement with Somali youth, and the impact this has on the parents and their ability to trust and grow in relationships with the Church. He also clarified the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker. Refugees are often in camps for an average of seventeen years until they are approved to travel to the United States. Asylum seekers, on the other hand, have risked sojourning to a different country in the hopes of applying for asylum upon arrival. Arrive Ministries, Central MN YFC and SENT, among others, are all working to engage and welcome Somalis in the St. Cloud community. Executive Director of Arrive, Bob Oehrig, moderated a panel showcasing the different ways to build friendships and get connected with Somalis, including ESL, sports, and hospitality. As a resettlement organization, Arrive has resettled 11,000 refugees in the Twin Cities and beyond.