The candidates didn’t appear to agree on much, but one apparent consensus among them stood out to Bucher: African-Americans and immigrants were a problem to society. As the pastor of Immanuel Mennonite Church in the diverse community of Harrisonburg, Virginia, Bucher decided someone needed to step up and promote Jesus’ teachings on loving our neighbors — regardless of race or ethnic background.
Given the large Hispanic and Arab population in the neighborhood, as well as the church, Bucher devised the idea to create a sign that read, “No matter who you are, we’re glad you’re our neighbor” in English, Spanish and Arabic. The sign reflects one of Jesus’ primary teachings —love God and love your neighbor — as well as something Paul the Apostle said in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ.” Bucher then brought the idea to his fellow church members, who supported it and encouraged him to place it on the front lawn.
Bucher enlisted the services of Melissa Howard, a local artist and member at Immanuel, to create the sign. For her usual price of $20, she a painted a board white with the text in all three languages.
However, when Bucher told other local Mennonite pastors Nick Meyer, Jennifer Davis Sensenig and Ben Risser about the sign, they suggested converting it into a yard sign so that others could spread the message.
Meyer worked with his friend Alex Gore and renowned videographer Jerry Holsopple to digitize the sign for distribution. The first batch consisted of a few hundred signs, which they gave away. After Holsopple improved the sign’s design and legibility, they sold several hundred at the annual Mennonite Relief Sale. Much to their surprise, within a few months, over 1,500 had been distributed. They expected to see some local support in the few weeks before the elections, but they never anticipated that it would last as long or spread as far as it has.
“I didn’t expect t-shirts or multi-colored signs” Bucher said. “I just put a sign out.”
Initially, Bucher and Immanuel Mennonite Church were the primary distributors, but as it spread, they quickly realized the project was too much for them to manage, so they passed it on. As the sign crossed borders, distribution centers began popping up across the United States. From its inception, the sign has been a part of Creative Commons, which means anyone can print and distribute it as they wish. The welcomeyourneighbor website provides pdfs and jpgs for the sign that include more than 20 languages. All Immanuel asks is that any proceeds go toward helping the local community rather than into a few people’s pockets.
The reach of the sign has only continued to grow. The church estimates that as many as 200,000 have been distributed in the United States alone, reaching all 50 states as well as different parts of Canada and Europe. The multi-colored sign has become a symbol of acceptance and love towards our neighbors — no matter who they are or where they are from — in a time when hate and discrimination often seem like the loudest voices.
As the sign continues to extend to every corner of the globe, Bucher and the rest of Immanuel Mennonite Church maintain its original message: following Jesus means loving God and your neighbor. The sign stands as a testament to the lives of the people who were involved in its creation, as well as the neighborhood where it originated.