At first glance, the little welcome mat looks much like something you’d find at World Market or Pier One. Strips of fabric sewn together make a durable gathering place for shoes that have journeyed near or far. But in the corner, a canvas tag is a reminder that this is much more than a rug.
It is redemption. And it is a hopeful invitation to the church.
The tag simply says, “Love Welcomes.” Tennessee-based Thistle Farms, a nonprofit dedicated to healing, empowering and employee women survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction, has welcomed a new group of women into their ministry. With every strip of fabric sewn, those women are discovering grace and freedom.
The women making the welcome mats are Syrian refugees living in an encampment in Greece. They fled with their families from the ravages of a world turned upside down in the hopes of finding sanctuary. Most pray to return to their homeland someday. All want to care well for their loved ones, even in an environment that offers little in the way of creature comforts. Thistle Farms has partnered with I AM YOU to help these women gain economic freedom. Each welcome mat is made from up-cycled blankets—blankets once used to provide warmth as families huddle together in makeshift shelters. Strips of bright yellow or orange weave through the blanket too. They are remnants of the life vests worn by the refugees as they sought shelter and acceptance.
Each week, refugees of all kinds from all walks of life long to find sanctuary from the ravages of a world turned upside down. What will they find when they come to our doors? For far too long, we have welcomed those who have a familiar story, those who seem “like us.” But the message of the gospel is “whosoever come.” Jesus invited the weary, the downtrodden, the forsaken. He loved dining with the outcasts and renegades. He was unafraid to hold the ones abandoned by culture and community. He laid His life down to become the ultimate welcome mat.
And Jesus asks us to do the same, Church. He asks us to up-cycle the care we have been given and extend it to others. He asks us to sew ourselves together with grace, and to proclaim to all, “Love Welcomes.” He asks us to lay ourselves down and be a durable gathering place—no matter where the shoes may have journeyed before they cross our threshold.
And that welcome should extend well beyond our doors. We, church, should be the welcome mats in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our country. As Carey Nieuwhof shares, “The love of Jesus was designed to spill far beyond the walls of the church, not be contained within them.”
As we stand at the beginning of a new year, we have the opportunity to show a world of welcome to refugees—those longing to find safe haven from pain, abuse, brokenness, loneliness, exploitation, addition, war, worry, fear, and suffering. Words inspired by Philippians 2 now inspire us to become the welcome mats we were created to be.
“If this journey with Jesus has meant anything to you, if it’s changed your heart and your life in any way, if it’s truly made you a new person, then this should be your great joy. This is the life that shines for Him, because this is the life He longs to live in and through us.
“Love to the depths, encourage beyond the edges, get low and get real and get busy caring even when it’s not comfortable. Walk alongside rather than in front, speak tender truth without manipulation. Let others go first—fill their plate and hold their bags and give them the best seat in the house. Remind people of their value, and don’t worry if you’re not hearing about yours. Lay it down, friends. Hold dirty shoes and dirty hands and cradle dirty faces and look in those eyes to say, ‘You are beautiful.’”
You are image and likeness, you know. Let that sink in deep, so that God’s own personality will rise in you. Jesus was fully God, fully king, full of privilege and power. And He revealed the greatest power in taking on the status of a slave. He poured Himself out to become the lifeblood others needed. He became the welcome mat. And He says, “Lay it down. Join me. Love is welcome here.”