Over the last six years that I’ve lived in Christchurch, I’ve noticed the cultural make-up of our society changing. The nations have come to our doorstep. We hear about this through the media, but often it’s reported in a way that encourages us to be fearful of strangers. Xenophobia is becoming more common in our world as globalisation creates a highway for people on the move. Xenophobia literally means ‘fear of strangers.’ Sadly this fear could cause us to give in to a spirit of self-protection and self-preservation.
The biblical story includes many accounts that encourage us to see things differently. Most strangers don’t come to threaten us but come to give us a deeper appreciation of the richness of life. It’s not only that we’re to welcome them, but we're also to learn that they have much to offer us.
Welcoming the stranger
We’re all familiar with Jesus’ Great Commandment: Love God with your whole being and love your neighbour as yourself. This stems from the Old Testament, but if you look through the Old Testament you’ll discover another important commandment which is repeated 36 times: “Love the stranger among you for once you were strangers in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). This was a reminder to the people that they were strangers (‘refugees’) in Egypt in the time of the famine. It was a reminder that through Joseph and Jacob, Israel received hospitality, welcome and settled for many generations.
A ‘stranger among us’ is in fact how Jesus came to earth. He was a ‘stranger in their midst’ asking to be welcomed. As a baby his family escaped to Egypt as refugees seeking asylum in a foreign land. Throughout his time on earth, Jesus demonstrated radical inclusion under what he called the Kingdom of God. It’s a Kingdom of welcome, generosity, hospitality, grace, mercy and justice. This is the Kingdom that the Church is to witness, proclaim and practice.
In this Kingdom there is no Jew and Gentile, no slave or free, no male or female – whatever categories that once divided people, creating an ‘us’ and ‘them’ have been effectively done away with through Christ (Galatians 3:28). In other words, there are to be no ‘strangers among us.’ We’re to embrace all people – especially the marginalised, weak, vulnerable, poor and stranger. We’re to cultivate an openness towards the stranger rather than fear.
Welcoming ‘strangers’ is a critical part of what it means to follow Jesus. It’s participating in mission. In his book You Don’t Have to Cross the Ocean to Reach the World, David Boyd states that the measure of a mission minded Church will not just be how many missionaries are sent out but whether the stranger feels at home in the Church.
What do strangers bring?
Welcoming strangers is not a one way street – strangers don’t just receive hospitality. In Scripture strangers also offered gifts and contributed to needs in the host country. Joseph became governor in Egypt. Ruth became part of David’s and Jesus’ whakapapa. Rahab hid Israel’s spies. Esther saved the Jews from destruction. Daniel served in Babylon. The list goes on!
As I read Scripture, I see God calling his people to be pilgrims, people who are on a journey. This world is not our home – we’re to live as strangers in it (1 Peter 2:11). Imagine if this reality became so real to us that strangers – immigrants, refugees, outsiders – found they could relate to us (or better, that we could relate to them). We wouldn’t just be the hosts, but fellow pilgrims who also don’t quite feel at home here.
Globalisation means that we’ll continue to see more people from different parts of the world in our communities, yet many migrants say that it’s difficult to connect with the Church. May our communities of faith be places of hospitality, healing, hope and grace. Maybe we’ve missed some opportunities, but let’s keep our eyes open for the next ‘stranger’ and open our lives to them. Let’s learn to welcome the stranger in our midst.
What positive examples of ‘welcoming the stranger’ have you seen?
Why do you think we’re sometimes fearful of ‘strangers’ or ambivalent towards foreigners, immigrants, refugees, those who don’t speak English?
Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.
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