Day 1: Welcome the Stranger

“And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”  Deuteronomy 10:19

The verse can’t be much clearer. And it’s not like that verse is some kind of outlier; you can find many other encouragements throughout the Bible to be live in harmony with people who are different than you.

I started working in refugee resettlement in 1990. I was hired as a young marketing writer for a major U.S. charity that did refugee resettlement in a couple dozen cities from coast to coast.

One of my first big assignments was to ride on a plane with a large group of refugees who were being flown from Moscow to Chicago. These were victims of persecution that was still present even in the waning days of the Soviet Union — Christians who found themselves at odds with local and national leaders.

A young father, a thin man with hollow cheeks and hurting eyes, talked to me through an interpreter. “My children cannot even eat an apple,” he said. “We are close enough to Chernobyl that everything is contaminated. Yet we cannot move.”

Like the others, he had appealed to authorities, made his case known to people in embassies, and had waited and filed forms and waited some more and finally heard that he and his family were permitted to enter the United States as refugees.

Other times, I met refugees in their homes. An older man from Vietnam welcomed me into his modest home in Binghamton, New York. He related his experience after the war in his nation ended, and the misery of re-education camps and forced labor, and ultimately finding new life in America. Another family, also Vietnamese, invited me into their one-bedroom apartment, where the cluttered living room featured adjoining desks for the two daughters who were earning straight-A’s at the local high school, and somehow completed their homework despite the blaring TV.

And also in Binghamton, I met beefy Vietnam vets, dressed like bikers, who had found healing and closure by working with the refugee resettlement agency as mentors and volunteers. These huge men cried and hugged easily; whatever trauma they had endured in the war was now channeled toward service and love toward Vietnamese refugees making new lives in New York.

Welcoming the Stranger is simply one way we model the unconditional love of Christ. I’ve seen how both the recipient and the giver of good deeds can be transformed by such selflessness. Privately, we should not pass up opportunities to help those who have arrived in our cities and towns; publicly, we should insist that strangers should continue to be welcomed and respected.

My prayer: That I will be open-hearted, open-minded, and open-handed to those different than myself. And that God will lead me in times of misinformation and overt and covert discrimination to stand up for those who are marginalized.

Further Reading: Matthew 2:1-15

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