‘Jesus was a refugee.’ Why Boise churches are sharing welcome signs

Welcome signs in Boise are part of a national trend to counter anti-immigration tone

Lauresta Welty, an administrator at the Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship in Boise," has placed a "Welcome Your Neighbors" sign in front of her Boise home. Welty said she and the fellowship are hoping to convey a positive message.
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Lauresta Welty, an administrator at the Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship in Boise," has placed a "Welcome Your Neighbors" sign in front of her Boise home. Welty said she and the fellowship are hoping to convey a positive message.

They’ve sprung up throughout the city, those tri-colored yard signs that read: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor,” in English, Spanish and Arabic.

The signs have caught on in Boise, including among local church congregations that are providing them at a small cost. And while a few sporadic sign thefts have been reported, most of the response to the signs has been supportive.

The signs are tangible evidence of a larger discussion about how local communities are defining themselves and responding to the national sentiment toward immigrants and refugees.

After weeks of testimony for and against resettlement, the city of Twin Falls passed a resolution last week declaring itself a “Neighborly City.” Boise and other Idaho cities became “Welcoming Cities” earlier this year rather than “sanctuary cities,” a designation that might have meant the loss of federal dollars under the Trump administration.

At the time, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter said the designation was a “re-affirmation of who we are,” a community of refuge. That was evidenced in the swift community response to raise money for repairs following the anti-Semitic vandalism at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial.

Lauresta Welty, administrator at the Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship, said people in her congregation started talking about the yard signs as “something hopeful” last fall after the presidential election. Donald Trump campaigned on restricting immigration, especially from Mexico and Muslim countries.

Welty’s daughter attends Hawthorne on the Boise Bench, a school with a large share of immigrant and refugee students.

“The morning after the election, my third-grader listed children in her class and how they might have to leave the country,” Welty said. “That’s something she’s talking about. As a third-grader. That had a big impact on me.”

The yard signs, which have been the subject of stories on NPR and elsewhere, originated at a Mennonite church in Virginia in 2015, predating much of the 2016 presidential campaign. A pastor there designed a similar sign to promote the idea of “real people following Jesus’ radical call to love and service,” and posted it at his church. It was so well received that he offered PDFs of the sign to anyone who wanted to print one. The project has since gone national.

Welty found the Virginia website, welcomeyourneighbors.org and downloaded the PDF. She found a local company to print the plastic signs for $5.50 apiece. She ordered 100 and sold them to congregants for the price of printing.

“We were out of signs in two weeks,” she said.

She ordered 150 more. Friends and neighbors, including many outside of the 60-family congregation, have bought nearly all of those signs as well. Welty and the Hyde Park Mennonites are listed as Idaho’s “community pickup center” on the welcomeyourneighbors website.

Welty said the popularity of the signs among Mennonites is in keeping with their history of persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries. Mennonites were Anabaptists who broke from the Protestant and Catholic churches, saying baptism was only valid when consciously chosen.

“And as Mennonites, we believe in peace,” said Welty. “Of course, that involves respect, and taking care of each other, and belonging to each other.”

The local congregation has been involved with causes such helping start Corpus Christi Day Shelter to participating in this year’s women’s, climate and science marches, said Welty. The church operates the fair-trade Dunia Marketplace. Mennonites are pacifists and conscientious objectors.

Julie Allyn attends the Mennonite church and bought a sign for her yard. Her signs were stolen three times.

“This is the type of neighborhood I want to live in, open and inclusive,” she said. “Although it’s clear not everyone agrees.”

Whoever is taking her signs. she said, probably doesn’t realize they’re only energizing a cause they’re opposed to. “If I have to keep buying one every week, I will,” she said.


Duane Anders, lead pastor at the Cathedral of the Rockies, came across the signs on a fellow pastor’s Facebook page and asked his friend for a couple signs. “Jesus was a refugee. Specifically a political refugee,” said Anders.

As soon as he put the signs up on the cathedral lawn, people wanted their own, he said. Like Welty, he got some printed and offered them for sale for cost. A principal at a school with a large refugee population bought 10.

The signs let people respond to the refugee question “in a way that works for them,” Anders said.

He likes to think of the signs as bumper stickers.

“Some of us are bumper-sticker people. Some of us are not. It doesn’t mean that those who are not aren’t equally passionate about the issue,” said Anders.

The cathedral has sold around 300 signs. “We have a new order in now,” said Anders.

About the signs

Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship, 1520 N. 12th St., 208-336-9872, or the Cathedral of the Rockies, 717 N. 11th St., 208-343-7511, are among those offering the signs.

Both churches sell them for $5 to $6 to cover printing costs.

Dunia Marketplace, 1609 N. 13th St., is selling the signs for $5 (which goes to the Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship to pay for printing).

Download the PDF from the Welcome Your Neighbors website and print your own at welcomeyourneighbors.org. Languages in addition to English/Spanish/Arabic are available on the website.

Find more information about the national Welcome Your Neighbors project on its Facebook page.