Review: You Welcomed Me

You Welcomed Me

You Welcomed MeKent Annan. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: Describes the global refugee crisis, the opportunities that the church has to extend welcome, and the fears and misunderstandings that prevent us from doing so.

There are as many as 66 million refugees in the world today. Currently, the U.S. is slated to accept fewer that 22,000, the lowest number in decades while much smaller countries have accepted as many as 2.5 million. Kent Annan, who directs the humanitarian and disaster leadership program at Wheaton College was asked by his son whether we are for or against refugees. A good question indeed, considering these numbers.

Starting with the simple statement of Jesus in Matthew 25:35, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” Kent Annan explores why the church should be for refugees and how we can extend welcome. He does much of this by telling stories. He begins with the idea of how these people could be any of us, helping us through these stories to recognize the common humanity we share with refugees, reminding us that scripture tells us that it could be angels we entertain when we welcome these strangers.

Annan explores fears that we have about opening our doors more widely to immigrants. Through both stories and statistics, he shows that these fears are misplaced. We have a 1 in 364 billion chance of being murdered by a refugee in a terrorist attack, a 1 in 10.9 billion chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack by an illegal immigrant, while we have a 1 in 14,000 chance of being murdered by anyone, a 1 in 303 chance of dying in an auto accident, and 1 in 7 chance of dying of cancer. Immigrants and refugees in this country contributed $63 billion more than they cost this country over the last decade. Urban neighborhoods into which immigrants move often see a reduction in crime and revitalization.

Annan also helps us empathize by sharing stories of the refugee experience. The snapshots he relates involve departures from unsafe or politically insecure situations, often leaving careers and possessions behind. Often, their flight involves harrowing and life-endangering journeys. Many spend years in refugee camps awaiting resettlement while undergoing rigorous vetting.

He gets practical in terms of what can be done, including information about agencies assisting refugees in the U.S. (some whose existence is threatened by our country’s reduction in the number of refugees it will accept). He urges us to become part of a human chain of being good neighbors, committing to hope, to reconciliation, and to grace.

Finally, drawing from the name of a relief organization, Annan pleads that to be for refugees is to say “here is life.” To welcome refugees is to participate in God’s in-breaking kingdom where we were welcomed and have found life through the Life Giver. We exchange fear for hope, hate for love, scarcity for abundance.

In each chapter, Annan offers practices that can set us started on the road to welcoming refugees and immigrants, making the book useful for a church mission team or study group. An appendix provides descriptions and contact information for the major refugee organizations working in the U.S. The book admits but doesn’t try to solve public policy problems. It helps us empathize (as much as a book can do) with what it is like to be a refugee, and encourages us to find out personally. It focuses on what church people can do to learn and act. I suspect if  a growing movement came forward and said “we want the country to increase the amount of refugees we welcome and we are willing to do the hard work of helping them settle,” that could have public policy implications.

This is a short book that does not try to do to much. And perhaps there is wisdom in this. If we will not heed and wrestle with Jesus’s words, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” I’m not sure the need at this point is for more words.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Serving God in a Migrant Crisis

serving god in a migrant crisis

Serving God in a Migrant CrisisPatrick Johnstone with Dean Merrill (foreword by Stephen Bauman). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: Concisely sets forth the scope of our present-day global refugee crisis, how as Christians we might think about all this, and several levels of action steps we may take.

We are facing an unprecedented refugee crisis. Corrupt regimes. Violent gangs. Climate change driven migration. Religious persecution. Ethnic cleansing. All these causes and more are leading people to do something no one wants or easily chooses to do–leave home, sometimes paying large sums to shady figures, with no certainty of finding refuge on the other end.

Patrick Johnstone is well known to many as the author of successive editions of Operation World, a guide that has helped many of us pray, or even be led to go to parts of the world and people groups who have not heard the Christian message. His study of these people groups made him keenly aware of these unprecedented movements of people, and the possibility that the very people we hope to reach with the Christian message may be on our doorstep. The question is not, how will we reach them, but will we welcome them?

Johnstone begins by inviting us to connect with our own immigrant histories and by drawing our attention to the one who we follow, who was himself a refugee as a child. In the first part, he explores the unprecedented human tide of immigrants, one out of every 122 on the planet. He turns to fears real and imagined and separates fact from fiction. Then he looks at the factors driving the refugee and migrant crisis, arguing that there is no end in sight and that more developed nations will be dealing with this for some time to come.

In the second part of the book, he focuses on what we need to know. First of all, he helps us understand why people leave their homes, often taking great financial and safety risks to do so. He reminds us that the biblical story is an immigrant story. God even causes some immigration. Our savior was an immigrant. Immigrants are not the “other,”  but rather are people who are “one of us.” Johnstone asks whether our immigration discussions ought to begin with policies and legalities, or with a concern for the humanity of the immigrant. Whatever we, and our nations do, it will have some kind of profound effect on the lives of real people, many of them among the most defenseless in the world. On the other hand, we often do not consider is that these people may turn out not as a problem to be solved, but a blessing. They provide needed workers in low-birthrate countries, some are fellow believers who rejuvenate the faith of complacent Christians, and some of our most respected scientists, political leaders, and business people have been immigrants.

So, what should we do? That is the concern of the final chapters in the third part of the book. He begins by suggesting five starting points:

  1. Appreciate the strategic opportunity. God is bringing the world to us!
  2. Recognize and admit our past mistakes.
  3. Become more sensitive to other cultures.
  4. Believe that God truly cares about migrants.
  5. Start praying.

This last point literally struck home. The author quotes a Ghanaian theologian who participated in African immigrant revivals, praying for the awakening of the West in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Columbus, Ohio, and Chicago. I live in Columbus and my church hosts a Ghanaian congregation. It made me wonder if some of those worshiping in our church building were among those the theologian was praying with. It makes me wonder if we are the ones being blessed by their presence and what they might teach us about prayer and spiritual warfare in the post-Christian West.

He then concludes with four action levels: the individual, the church, what Christian agencies can do and what the global body of Christ can do. This lasts challenges us both in speaking to ourselves about the need at hand, and speaking to our governments.

What was so refreshing about this book is that it stepped aside from media circus and the political fray and centered the discussion on the reality of the human crisis behind the policy debates and the biblical convictions and dispositions of the heart of people who follow Jesus the refugee. While not ignoring the important role Christians can have in challenging the government, it also focused on the critical role Christians can play in their home church communities by hosting refugees, welcoming immigrants into our homes, networking them into work opportunities, and sharing our faith with them.

This last phrase will be a problem for some. Certainly, we should do all that we can for the immigrant whether they believe or not. But Johnstone makes a telling observation that comes out of his years of work among many people groups: “Immigrants will think it odd if you don’t introduce your faith. They will wonder if you are ashamed of your beliefs for some reason.” This reminds me that the greatest tragedy of yielding to the fears and insecurities that feed political bases and media ratings; is that in so doing we miss the opportunity to love the alien and the stranger, see them become friends, and perhaps witness their turning to new life in Christ. What others see as a crisis and a problem, Johnstone recognizes as a great opportunity. Will we?

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Jesus Was a Refugee

The Flight into Egypt by Giotto di Bondone

The Flight into Egypt by Giotto di Bondone

Jesus was a refugee.

He and his parents fled a vicious pogrom against the babies of Bethlehem, of which he was the target. Egypt opened its borders and provided a home for this child until the jealous king who sought his death found the death he sought for others.

We were refugees. Many of our forbears sought refuge in this country from famine, economic destitution, political tyranny and religious persecution. The church denomination of which I am a part came to this country as refugees seeking freedom of religion when they could be forcibly drowned simply for teaching a baptism of immersion.

My city has been a haven for refugees. We host the second largest Somali population in North America with over 45,000 living in different neighborhoods across our city. Many families came here in 1991 when warlords made life in Somalia a life and death struggle. Babies then are Buckeyes now, students at Ohio State and other U.S. universities. Somalis have bought homes, paid taxes, run businesses. It has been hard because of fears of ties with terror organizations. Yet the actual incidents of this have been few, but widely publicized. Do we give the same publicity, I wonder, to native-born citizens also drawn into these organizations?

Now refugees are pouring into Western countries from Syria. The estimates are that three million have fled Syria and 6.5 million are internally displaced, many in refugee camps in the country. So far our country has accepted 1500 refugees or .5 percent of those who have fled the country. We say we’ll take 10,000 more.

I’ve heard all the arguments against taking more–the costs, the risks. No doubt there is some truth in all of it. There are those more learned than I who can parse all this out. I’m stuck back at the first sentence in this post:

Jesus was a refugee.

This is the same Jesus who later said, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25:40, NIV).

It makes me wonder, if Jesus had sought refuge in America, would we have closed our borders? And if we did, what would that have meant for the world? And what about the many other refugees who came to our country? Albert Einstein, Elie Wiesel, Bela Bartok, Madeline Albright, Miriam Makeba, Isabel Allende, and Henry Kissinger are but a few.

I do not mean to suggest that we turn a blind eye to risks. But it seems that in the hysterical fears that would close our borders, we may protect ourselves from terror at the risk of excluding those who might be our saviors, or who may immensely enrich our society by their genius and unique contributions.

Jesus was a refugee.