Loving your neighbor starts with noticing your neighbor.



Don’t give up chocolate for Lent this year, said Pope Francis. Give up indifference to the poor.

“Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”Describing this phenomenon he calls the globalization of indifference, Francis writes that “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.” He continues that, “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”   – TIME magazine

Notice your neighbor. Continue reading

On confusing Jesus with the Statue of Liberty

 “People are confusing the Statue of Liberty and Jesus…But in fact while the real historical Jesus did urge compassion for those in need, but he also said, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.’ In other words, support government with your taxes because they have a legitimate function like protecting citizens. Those of us who believe in the sanctity of life believe that sanctity serves to not only to protect the unborn but to protect the born from terrorist attacks. That’s a Christian value as well.” – A certain pastor of a big church on Fox news

Once they wouldn’t let my Dad on a plane. He had to stay behind in Germany a few extra days to go to the US embassy because he didn’t have enough pages in his passport. It was inconvenient, and frustrating, but we knew it would all work out in the end. Continue reading

Gracism: The art of radical inclusion

Oookay that last post ended up going to a much broader audience than I intended! I’m thankful to the people who have kept their comments civil, as this is something the internet discourages us from doing these days. That’s what we Christians do, it’s part of our witness to the watching world. We disagree, but we can have civil conversation about it , we still see people as made in God’s image, we resist the temptation to overgeneralize and defame. Thank you to those who have shown this is possible, even when emotions are running high.

To my friends who voted for Trump (and I say friends, because you are! I know and love you, and I know you are not hateful, KKK-loving crazies) – I’m sorry if my words caused you pain, if you felt like I was painting you into the corner as the bad guys. My intention was simply to point out the real pain that I’ve witnessed in the church from the things Trump himself and some of his supporters have said and done. I think many of us in the church naively thought we could vote on a platform and separate that from the person, without realizing the real hurt that would cause to the most vulnerable members of the body of Christ. And that’s what I care about- the hurt to the vulnerable members of our body. Continue reading

Hospitality Series: Home

I’m really excited to welcome my friend, Annie, to the blog to wrap up our series on hospitality. If you’re just joining us, here’s the intro post, which has links to all the posts in the series. Annie works for the organization Dry Bones Denver with homeless and street-connected youth and young adults. Here’s their mission: In the context of relationships, practicing the way of Jesus, Dry Bones Denver works to meet spiritual and physical needs of homeless and street connected youth and young adults. We seek to equip and inspire all involved to relieve suffering, facilitate reconciliation, and free the heart to love. Annie’s emphasis on creating welcoming spaces through relationships, and practicing hospitality as a way of life is a great challenge to all of us. Enjoy!


Right now we have “home” on our mind at Dry Bones. I mean, it’s a pretty normal thing for us to be thinking about “homelessness,” but thinking extensively about “home” is another matter. It is the theme of our fundraiser, the theme of our conversations, and the theme of our personal work. Recently, a woman named Joyce has joined our staff. She is a life coach meets therapist meets wise sage. Much of her work with our community has to do with giving people the tools to find an “inner home,” a safe place where we can go to move through difficult, unfamiliar, anxiety-ridden circumstances. We all need an inner home.

Continue reading

Hospitality series: On Welcoming Muslims

This is a new guest post in the Hospitality Series. This one is on welcoming our Muslim neighbors, and comes from my friend Rachel. I love how she reminds us of the importance of putting aside fear to welcome those who are different, and her honesty in sharing from her own experiences. Definitely worth a read-through to the end!!

A couple of weeks ago a Christian friend posted on Facebook that that day four of her Muslim friends had been accosted in a grocery store parking lot in the USA. The accoster threw things at them and screamed at them to get out of his country. He said he knew they were terrorists because of the way they were dressed.

My heart wept.

It wept because this isn’t the first time I’ve heard such stories. It wept because I wasn’t very surprised to hear this story—and stories like this ought to be surprising. 

It wept because the fact that a woman covers her head does not make her a non-American. It wept because hijabs, niqabs, and abayas are Islamic—not terrorist—garb. There’s a legitimate distinction to be made between “terrorism” and “Islam”. Muslim leaders from around the world have denounced terrorism in the name of Islam.

Most of us have probably heard that before: “terrorist” ≠ ”Muslim”. At a certain level, it’s obviously true. Not all Muslims are terrorists, and not all terrorists are Muslims. I imagine most of you will agree: what that man did was wrong. Why need more be said?

Consider this: there’s a movement in the US to prevent Muslim refugees from entering our country. Advocates warn of a “Muslim colonization” of this country. On October 10, 2015), upwards of 20 anti-Muslim rallies have been planned outside mosques across the US.

Sure, there are fringe groups who do crazy things. But most of us aren’t going to participate in such extreme activities. So we’re off the hook, right?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

A few facts might help put things in perspective.

  • The population of the US is about 319 million. Estimates vary, but there are somewhere between 2-3 million Muslims in the US. That means that less than 1% of the population of the US is Muslim.
  • There are about 4 million Syrian refugees. The US recently increased the number of refugees it plans to accept this year from 1,500 to 10,000. There have been calls to accept many more refugees and immigrants.
  • There was a recent accusation of discrimination against would-be Christian refugees to the US. That accusation is false. Resettlement of Christian refugees roughly corresponds to the percent of Syrian population that is Christian (i.e., 10%). Although estimates vary, at least half of Arabs in the US are Christian.

There has been a significant increase in reported incidents of religious discrimination against Muslims in the USA since 9/11. Some of that is likely due to increased recognition among American Muslim communities of their ability to report such discrimination. But there has also been an increase in antagonism against Muslims.

“I could feel the difference after 9/11,” a Muslim friend once told me. “People looked at me differently. They were suspicious of me, afraid of me.”

“Everyone stares at me. It’s like they think I’m a terrorist,” another Muslim friend recently moved to an area of the US in which there aren’t many Muslims recently told me. That worried me, I told her, because when I see Muslim women I’m curious, because I want to get to know them, and hence probably stare.

“Don’t worry,” she told me. “People can tell the difference.”

I thought about that comment for a long time. I think she’s right: We usually can tell the difference between friendly and suspicious stares. And in an environment in which one’s accustomed to suspicious stares, I think friendly stares might be even more noticeable. Small gestures of kindness can mean a lot in an environment of suspicion.

A couple of years ago a Muslim friend told me that children were often scared of her when she wore the niqab. Once a preschooler pointed at her and shouted, “Daddy! It’s a ghost!” She wasn’t surprised. But she was surprised when the dad stopped, turned around, told his son that it wasn’t a ghost, and apologized to her. That apology meant so much to her that she remembered it years later. Being apologized affirmed her humanity, her dignity, her worth.

Being fearful does none of those things. God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). And yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us—even those of us who wouldn’t throw things at Muslims in grocery store parking lots—would have to admit that Muslims make us uneasy, and perhaps even a tiny bit afraid. If so, I encourage you to reflect on the following questions:

  • Do I derive my values more from my identity as a follower of Christ or an adherent to a political ideology?
  • How can I love my Muslim neighbor as I love myself?

Someone wiser than me recently told me that he thinks most Christians who fear Islam actually fear pluralism. I think he’s onto something. You need not be a pluralist to welcome your Muslim neighbors. In fact, many of my best conversations with Muslim friends have happened because neither of us were pluralists, and we talked through the differences of what we believeroom at table.

I know a church which decided to meet its Muslim neighbors. So, some of them went to the mosque and introduced themselves. The Muslims were astounded. “We’ve been here for more than two decades,” they said, “and this is the first time any non-Muslims came here to introduce themselves.” Members of the church and mosque started meeting together periodically to share meals, learn about their respective faith traditions, share their experiences of God, and develop friendships.

I can hardly think of a better way to love in a way that overcomes fear.

I realize that many of us aren’t in positions to begin a mosque-church alliance right now. (I’m not.) But in light of the Islamophobic climate, there is a need to do something rather than nothing. So what can you do as an individual? I imagine you’ll be better at answering that question than I will.

Determining appropriate ways to be welcoming can be tricky. On one hand, given the climate of Islamophobia I want to make the most of opportunities to build bridges when I meet Muslims. On the other hand, I don’t want to exacerbate social distance by singling out and approaching women exclusively because they’re Muslim. I don’t want to box my Muslim neighbors in and presume I must relate to them in a distinctive way because they’re “other”.

Two weeks ago I went to Goodwill on a Sunday afternoon and came across two Palestinian Muslim women and their children. I wanted to find a way to introduce myself, but no obvious “ins” to the conversation presented themselves. They were finding clothes and checking prices, and I felt like butting in to introduce myself would be more objectifying than humanizing. So, I did nothing. I kept thinking about what my friend had said: people can tell the difference between a curious and suspicious stares. I hoped the same applied to initiating conversations.

Afterwards, we crossed paths again in Aldi. Still, I couldn’t think of any natural ways to strike up a conversation. Finally, after we had both checked out, one of the women sat down near the exit and heaved a sigh. “Tired?” I asked her. She smiled, nodded, and went back to talking to her children. And that was the end of that.

“Well, so much for that,” I thought as I left. My attempt to strike up a conversation had flopped.

But just because the conversation flopped doesn’t mean the attempt did. I think—at least, I hope—there was still something valuable in that.


Rachel Jonker is a philosophy graduate student at Notre Dame University in South Bend, IN. (She did her undergrad at Taylor University, which is where I got to know her thoughtfulness and wonderful personality :D).

A second book to help you on your journey (and, so what can I DO??)

If you read Daniel Carroll’s book, you’re probably pretty convinced that as followers of Jesus we need to be showing hospitality and welcome to immigrants. Maybe even if they are here without paperwork. But then, there are probably one-thousand other questions you have:

Does helping undocumented immigrants (‘illegal immigrants’) mean that I am breaking the law? If I help someone find a house or food, or teach them ESL, am I guilty of breaking the law? (No.)

Undocumented workers should leave the USA and then wait their turn in line to get a visa, shouldn’t they? (Well… first, the minute they leave the US they will trigger a 10 year prohibition to re-enter. Imagine if you’re a Mom with three children born in the USA who are citizens? Second, the “lines” to get back in are astronomically long for unskilled laborers. People could wait years and years, and in some cases, there is no legal way for them to enter and work).

Aren’t lots of immigrants bad for our economy? Don’t they steal jobs from poor people? (Short answer: No, although at a local level they can sometimes hurt the economy, at a federal and large-scale, they always help the economy).

Well, aren’t undocumented workers hurting the economy because they’re providing super cheap labor? (If there was a process for workers with low-level skills to work legally, they would. This would force employers to pay them the minimum wage. There’s also a false dichotomy that is set up between poor US citizens and immigrants “stealing jobs”. In a globalized economy, immigrants who are willing to work for low pay keep corporations in the US rather than outsourcing).

Don’t undocumented workers drain our social services? They get paid in cash so they don’t pay taxes and so don’t they suck from the system, right? (No. The majority of undocumented workers are using forged social security cards, so they are paying taxes, but unable to reap any benefits. They also pay sale tax every time they purchase things, and by renting or owning property, they contribute to the housing taxes. It’s debatable whether they put pressure on education and emergency healthcare systems).

Most Hispanic immigrants don’t want to learn English, right? (No, studies conclusively show that as with most immigrant groups, while the parents may struggle to learn English, their children generally learn quickly. By the second and third generation, immigrants are all fluent in English. Even first generation immigrants want to learn English, they see it’s importance in getting a good job).

These are just some of the kinds of questions that Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matthew Sorens and Jenny Hwang Yang answers. This book is full of practical answers to common questions, and is based on quality research. It’s written in a very readable, accessible way.

The book also makes some general points that we should look for when we’re lobbying for immigration reform. The chapter at the end tracks the progression of different bills for immigration reform, however the edition I was reading came out around the time of Obama’s election, and so it didn’t have any recent information. However, basically there’s been no real immigration reform since the time the book came out in 2008 anyway.

room at table

  • Talk to your church leaders about showing the film “The Stranger” (the preview is embedded in this post, and going to www.thestrangerfilm.org will allow you to download the film. There are also group discussion guides.
  • Check out evangelicalimmigrationtable.com for resources, statistics, and stories.
  • Take the 40-day “I was a stranger” challenge. Go to this website to print off a 40-day prayer guide. Get your small group or church involved.
  • World Relief has reams of resources for learning about immigration, immigration reform, and connecting your churches with this issue. Visit welcomingthestranger.com.
  • The book Welcoming the Stranger outlines what is meant by comprehensive immigration reform. This includes: making it easier for people to get legal visas, a path to residence/citizenship for undocumented workers (not amnesty, but a path that involves learning English, paying fines, showing they haven’t committed crimes etc), and have secure borders, as well as keeping families together.
  • Phone your representative. Tell them you want them to focus on comprehensive immigration reform. There are extremist groups who literally shut down the phones by calling incessantly whenever immigration reform comes up. We’re a democracy. Your representative wants to vote the way their constituents want them to. Don’t let the loud, crazy people swing votes. Make your voice heard. (Here’s a tool you can use to look up your representative). PS the first time I ever phoned my representative was in college about this issue. If I can do it, you can do it. 🙂
  • Start an ESL (English as a Second Language) group at your church.
  • Visit immigranthope.org to learn how best to help immigrants you know, and as well as to connect immigrants to legal help. They also have some great resources, and have a great emphasis on caring for immigrants as whole people, and not seeing people only in light of their immigration status.





Christians at the border: The First book to help you on your journey


Sometimes, you need more than a blog post to figure something out. So in the next two posts, here are two books that can really help you on your journey of digging deeper into what it means to welcome the stranger, and how you can do it practically. Both of these books are from a Christian perspective, and focus on Hispanic immigration in the USA, but South Africans and others can still glean something from them about welcoming immigrants and refugees (especially this first book, Christians at the Border, which focuses less on the nuts and bolts of the issue, and more on the heart behind it).

Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible by M. Daniel Carroll R.

Carroll is an Old Testament scholar, and the majority of this book is focused on how as Christians we can form a biblical framework for viewing immigration issues in the USA. He shows us what the Bible has to say, and then he links it to specific issues regarding Hispanic immigration. He doesn’t spend much time talking about nuts and bolts policy reform, or how we should be voting—but he provides a crucial foundation for how we should think about these issues. And how we think about them will affect what kind of immigration reform we vote for. This book is readable, but it’s a tad-bit more “college textbook feel” (especially at the beginning) than the other book I read. This book was updated and revised in 2013, so the picture he paints of the current immigration situation in the USA is still pretty relevant.closeup




The messy history of immigration: He starts by giving a brief history of US immigration and Hispanic immigration, showing it’s a complex history of encouraging immigration from some groups, and shutting out others. The same year the statue of Liberty with it’s quote “give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses” was placed near Ellis Island, the US passed it’s extremely racist anti-Chinese immigration laws. We need to let go of the idea that all previous immigration to the US was neat, clean, and legal. There were no such thing as visas back when our Irish, Italian, English and French ancestors came over. The US forced the migration of black slaves from Africa, and when they annexed Texas and many of the Western states from Mexico, many Hispanic people became American at the stroke of a pen.

A Biblical view of immigrants: Jesus followers should be people-focused when it comes to immigration. “Immigration should not be argued in the abstract because it is about immigrants”. Carroll shows how in both Old Testament law (which was given as a picture of how to live as people of God) and in Old Testament stories (from Abraham, to Moses, to Ruth, to Daniel) show the importance of caring for “foreigners” and immigrants. Go read Ruth, but pretend she is from El Salvador and moving to the US. The complexities of moving for economic reasons, for family ties, the struggles of fitting in and scraping by… these are all things relevant to immigration today. The fact that immigrant-Ruth is included in the lineage of the Messiah shows God’s heart for the immigrant.

carroll2A call for majority-culture Christians: Carroll addresses both Hispanic immigrant Christians and majority culture Christians in his book. I want to talk to majority culture Christians, because that’s the category I fit into in the USA.

Carrol says: “To be hospitable is to imitate God.” Life is busy, and it’s hard enough to connect with our own families, let alone people who are different. “Nevertheless, to cling to a chosen lifestyle and schedule, define the permitted parameters of a neighborhood, and monopolize time just for oneself and one’s family to the exclusion of the stranger—any stranger—might be rebellion against God and an ignoring of something dear to him.”

image from one of the worst immigration tragedies in recent years: 18 immigrants die in the back of a truck in Texas.

image from one of the worst immigration tragedies in recent years: 18 immigrants die in the back of a truck in Texas.

We need to welcome our Hispanic neighbors, many of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to invite them into our hearts and lives (whether they have documentation or not), and even beyond that, we need to advocate for just laws that will provide legal ways for people to immigrate so they do not resort to entering the country without visas.

Carrol goes on to say that, “Laws, especially as they pertain to the vulnerable, (widows, orphans, poor, the physically and mentally challenged, and the immigrant) can be a window to a country’s soul. What do they say about us and the depth and breadth of our compassion?” Indeed.

room at table



I’ll end my two book reviews with a post that has many practical ideas, but here are two points to get you thinking:

  • It has been exciting to see the amount of support that people have shown for the we welcome refugees campaign. YAY! To learn about how you and your church can petition government and sign up to host Syrian refugees, visit this website.
  • This is Hispanic Heritage month, and a chance to welcome and celebrate the contributions of Americans who have Hispanic heritage. One way we can celebrate that is to continue welcoming Hispanic immigrants in our communities and advocating just as hard for them as we have for our Syrian brothers and sisters. We don’t have to advocate for open borders, but as the system stands, it is almost impossible for a poor person from South America to enter our country legally. I’ll be writing more on this later…but let’s not be accused of having a double-standard when it comes to how we view immigration. Let’s not welcome immigrants from afar and close our hearts to those who live nearby. 

PS: Want to buy the book “Christians at the Border”? Clicking on any link in this post gets it from Amazon through my affiliate link and helps support this blog. 🙂


Hospitality: Giving more than spare change

Meet Greg Jewell, our first guest poster in the hospitality series! My husband and I got to know Greg and Roxanne Jewell while we were in South Africa. Their South-African-American marriage and dramas with visas were things that connected us, along with their love for children. Greg has graciously agreed to share about the work he does with the children who live on the street in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. For those of you who are not from the area, these are children and teens who sleep on the streets, and are often begging for change at robots (traffic lights). Most of us either roll our eyes and roll up our windows when we get to the robot, or we guiltily give them some money. Greg and the YFC team, however, are giving something more: they’re making friends with these kids by making space in their lives and hearts for them. I love that Greg’s focus is on how true hospitality is not about us–what will make us feel better, what we are comfortable with–but about the other person.


I work in the Khayalethu Project of Youth for Christ in KwaZulu-Natal. More specifically, I work on the Outreach Team. Our team focuses on helping youth who live on the streets. Many of the youth who choose this lifestyle do so because they enjoy having no authority figure over them. It’s not an easy lifestyle but they can do as they please with what little they have. Now how would you go about getting a child like this off the streets? It’s not an easy proposition at all.

Our main activity is simple: we get to know the kids. We go to where they are which is never a nice, clean place. We sit and chat with them. If we can, we play card games or soccer in an effort gain their trust. Essentially, we treat them like the human beings that they are.

When most people see the kids we work with, they see a random face that makes them feel guilty. Sometimes this guilt will cause them to give money or food but then the traffic light turns green and life moves on. The kid gets to eat or get high but there is no other change in behavior. Similarly, the person who gave gets to feel good about giving but doesn’t realize that they’ve enabled that child to continue living on the streets.

Salving one’s own personal guilt is not the way to help these children. They need so many things that they can’t get on the streets and one of the most important is a positive adult role model who cares for them. At YFC, we’re able to spend the time and effort to build relationships with these kids in the hopes that they will one day trust us enough to take our offer of help. After all, who would listen to a complete stranger who is offering advice? We want to come alongside these kids so that they will see that there’s a better way to live.

Just like all kids, these kids deserve a chance to make something of themselves. If you ask them, they would all tell you what they want to be when they grow up and none of them want to be homeless adults. We want to come alongside them and help them to see that they can do so much more than beg for spare change and society’s guilt.

room at table

I’ve asked my guest posters to share practical things that people can do to show hospitality. This is the part where we stop scrolling, and start doing. 🙂  

If you live in Pietermaritzburg, rather than giving money to street children, would you consider supporting the work of YFC/KZN? You could also commit to making sandwiches for their outreach, or volunteering your time. Take a look at at their website (Click here) to see if these, any other opportunities  fit your abilities. However, as Greg says, “Christ has given us all the ability to pray and we greatly value your prayers”.

gregAbout Greg Jewell:  I was born and raised in Midwestern USA but I now live in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. A lot of people here think I’m an atypical American as I love soccer, hate coffee and use sunscreen religiously. I’m married to an amazing South African woman who loves Jesus and working with kids as much as, if not more than, I do. We’re undergoing the long and grueling process of adoption because we know that God has called us to this.

PS. If you liked this post, you might like this one on how we can help without hurting, or this one on caring for all kids, not just those in our immediate family.

When your neighbor is a stranger: Hospitality Series

hospitality image

I felt so homeless as we trudged through yet another small town in northern Spain on El Camino. Since we had left South Africa at the end of March, we had been walking across Spain, and once we landed it would be another several months of hopping between family and friends before we settled in Texas in August. We’d only been on our pilgrimage about a week, and already I was sick of it. So many people talk about how freeing it is to hike Camino with only the bare essentials you need on your back, but all I could think about was the first minute when I could finally put my pack down and leave my toothbrush in the same place for more than five minutes. Slugging your worldly belongings with you everywhere because you don’t have a place to leave them is exhausting—even if it is just one change of clothes and a sleeping bag. I couldn’t wait to be rid of them.

As we sat down on a bench in a sliver of sunshine in a small plaza and took out our loaf of bread and red pepper for supper, I saw a homeless man approach the door of the church nearby and take a seat. He made me uncomfortable. He was wearing every piece of clothing he had to ward off the cold, he didn’t look very clean, and he obviously had mental health challenges.

As we ate our supper, I thought back to the one piece of advice we got before leaving on Camino: “Don’t take anything you don’t want to throw away.” We took that literally. I was wearing my mom-in-law’s old hiking pants that I had been using as painting gear for the past three years in South Africa, and David hadn’t shaved in days (which is always a little frightening). We were on a tight budget, and so were hand-washing our one change of clothes every night, rather than paying to use the washers. We really didn’t look that different from the homeless man.

When the warm church finally opened for mass, we tumbled inside with the homeless man and a few other people. When it came time to kneel, I didn’t know if I would be able to make it back up. We had walked over 20 miles that day, in search of a donativo (donation-based) hostel. The town five miles back was full of private hostels that were out of our price range. I was tired. So, so tired of carrying that stupid pack, of feeling dislocated, of having to walk, and walk, and walk.

After mass, the priest announced, “Pilgrims, please come forward for a blessing.” David and I stood, along with a Canadian woman, and trudged forward. I looked behind me and saw the homeless man was coming too. The priest asked us where we were from. We went around the small circle, explaining our journey so far, and the homeless man waved his hand, too.

“Ah, yes, you can tell us where you are from, too.” the priest said with a small smile. One had the feeling he did this every night. Yet the priest listened to the man, who was all the while rocking on his heels with a nervous tick.

The priest had us bow our heads while sprinkling us with holy water. The homeless man tapped the priest at the end, and the priest made sure to sprinkle him a bit, too.The priest chuckled and handed the holy water to his assistant, “That is not really anything,” he said. “This is the part that is important.” Then he placed his hand on our forehead, asked us our name, and prayed for us this pilgrim blessing that is said at the end of the mass in Santiago:

O God, who brought your servant Abraham out of the land of the Chaldeans, protecting him in 
his wanderings, who guided the Hebrew people across the desert, we ask that you watch over Stephanie,
your servant, as she walks in the love of your name to Santiago de Compostela.

Be for her companion on the walk,
 her guide at the crossroads, 
her breath in her weariness, 
her protection in danger,
 her albergue on the Camino,
her shade in the heat, 
her light in the darkness, 
her consolation in our discouragements,
 and her strength in her intentions.

So that with your guidance she may arrive safe and sound at the end of the Road and enriched
with grace and virtue return safely to her home filled with joy.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

 We all waited as one by one, he prayed for each of us by name. I watched as the white haired priest (who has come to look exactly like Pope Francis in my imagination, although I’m sure that can’t be exactly right) placed his hand on the homeless man’s forehead and prayed for his journey.

I wish I could say we became best friends with the homeless man, shared our food, and found a place to bunker down together. This could be a story of transcending language and class barriers and pushing through my own discomfort to consider someone else—but it’s not. The man went off with the priest afterwards, and we slept by the side of the road a little ways outside of town. The donativo hostel was closed for the season. But sleeping on the side of the road, I realized in a new way how un-homeless I am. How I have so many friends and family, so much social capital, that even without a house I’d probably never be in the position of the homeless man with whom we had mass.

But the thing I remember most about that moment, the thing that kept me warm in my sleeping bag that windy night, was the memory of my interaction with the priest. How for a few minutes, I felt totally accepted, and cherished, and welcome. Even though I was dirty, and tired and could hardly speak the language around me, I had a home.

And so for the next while on the blog, I want to think about hospitality. I want to think about what it actually means to welcome strangers in. Is there more to hospitality than just having a clean house and chocolate chip cookies handy for visitors? The greek word for hospitality literally means “love of strangers”. We like loving our neighbors who talk and sound and look like us. But how can we welcome people who are totally different to us in the way of Christ? How can we offer our lives up as spaces to welcome people?

In the coming weeks, I’ve invited several friends to share this space on the blog. They’ll be helping us see what it means to welcome the homeless and the immigrant in both South Africa and America. Thanks for joining this journey!

Here are the links to all the posts in the hospitality series:

On Condemning broken things – The story of the woman caught in adultery

Giving more than Spare change– Greg Jewell, South Africa

Christians at the Border-  Christian view of immigration & book review

What you can DO about US immigration– book review on US immigration

On welcoming Muslims– Rachel Jonker, USA

An Open Door (SA refugees & immigrants)– Interview with Bishop Paul Verryn, South Africa

Home- Annie Diamond, USA

PS. If you like this post on hospitality, you might like this one on South African immigrants, or this one on the world day of prayer.

On condemning broken things

Lately the story in John 8 of the woman caught in adultery has been coming up in conversation. So I decided to revisit it, and I was surprised to find this isn’t really a story about the woman caught in adultery. This is a story about the Pharisees. It’s a story about drawing lines in the sand, about condemning people. It’s not a story about the terrible sinner, it’s a story about me, the religious good girl. And it even has something to say about hospitality.

condemnJesus is teaching people at the Temple Mount, and the Pharisees are angry because so many people are listening to him. It’s just been the feast of Tabernacles, and Jesus has been in Jerusalem, basically announcing he’s the Messiah. The Pharisees even send the temple police to arrest Jesus, but they come back empty handed, saying, “We’ve never heard anyone talk like him before!”

The Pharisees are irate, “None of the leaders believe in him—just all the rabble. It’s only the crowd, ignorant of God’s Law that’s taken in by him—and damned.”

Not only do the Pharisees hate Jesus, they also are confident they know the law. They follow tight moral codes. They know right from wrong.

So they bring Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. They drag her in before the crowds listening to Jesus and say, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. The Law of Moses says that such a person should be stoned. What do you say?”

The Law says this—but what do you say? Can you hear it? They’re trying to pit Jesus against the Law so that they can catch him out.

The woman is standing before everyone, trembling. The crowd stares at her.

If Jesus demands she be stoned, the Pharisees win—Jesus will lose the crowd. If he says she should go free, he’s contradicting the Law of Moses, and the Pharisees can nab him as a false teacher. Either way, they win. They don’t care about the woman at all. She isn’t a person, this is all just a trap to assert their power.

So Jesus says nothing, and instead bends over and starts writing in the dirt with his finger. The Pharisees keep badgering Jesus to say something.

He stands up.

“The sinless one among you, go first. Throw the stone.”

Then he bends down and keeps drawing in the dirt.

Crouched low, out of the picture, woman and the Pharisees are left standing at the front. The eyes of the whole crowd are on them.

It is silent.

The stones become heavy in the hands of the Pharisees.

Their faces flush as they think over their own past sins. Slowly, one by one, starting with the oldest, the Pharisees turn, drop their stones, and push their way through the crowd and slip away out the back.

The woman is left alone. It’s just her and Jesus.

Jesus stands up and says to her, “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”

She shakes her head. “No one, master,” she says softly.

And this is the part I never noticed before. Jesus is left with her. Jesus is the only sinless one in the group. Jesus said the sinless one should cast the first stone. The sinless one is the one with the right to cast the first stone. But he does not cast it. Instead….

“Then I do not condemn you either.” Jesus says.

He doesn’t draw a line in the sand and tell her she’s on the wrong side.

“Go on your way,” he says.

“And from now on,” he adds, “don’t sin.”


What does this story have to do with hospitality? With welcoming strangers?  A couple of things, actually. Here’s what I learned from Jesus:

People are always people to Jesus. The Pharisees use the woman as a tool to make their point. They don’t care about her (or even, oddly enough, that much about her sin). They care about making a point. People are just things they can use to push their agenda. Even the disciples fall into this trap—seeing people’s suffering as a reason to debate theology, rather than someone worthy of consideration. How often do I fall into this trap? How often do I think in terms of institutions, or systems, or irritations, or interruptions, or being right rather than thinking about people? This is all about people. It’s people who need to be welcomed, people who need to be invited in, not abstract theological lessons.

 In this story, Jesus, the only one with the right to condemn does not condemn. I don’t think the point of this story was the woman’s sin. Of course she was a sinner. Of course Jesus does not want her to continue in sin. But I think the point of the story is that the Pharisees were sinners just as much as the adulterer. Jesus is the only sinless one, the only one with the right to condemn people and yet he doesn’t. “Who is this Jesus person??!” I find myself asking.

Where do I put myself in this story? Well, I’m not Jesus. So I guess that puts me in the Pharisee camp, holding stones. And Jesus has just pointed out I don’t have a right to throw them.

I think sometimes as Christians, we look around at the world going to chaos around us, where people don’t seem to think twice about a moral code, and think it’s our job to condemn people. The culture is telling people that sin is just fine, and so we think it is our job to tell them that their moral choices are wrong. We can interact with “these people” but if we don’t constantly mention we disagree with their choices in our every encounter with them, we’re supporting them with our silence and we’re complicit in their sin. Did you hear that? Complicit. We want to condemn others because we’re worried their sin will rub off on us, and we don’t want to be guilty by association.

Except this story points out that it’s not my job to condemn. It’s Jesus’ job to condemn. It’s my job to show people Jesus, whoever they are—whether self-righteous law keepers, or people with their moral code in shambles. 

That’s what welcoming the stranger is– it’s inviting people in, so that healing and restoration can begin, not shutting people out.

And when people encounter Jesus, with all his terrifying beauty and goodness and love, I think they will have a sense that he is the only sinless one, and they are in need of grace. Because that’s how I feel around Jesus.

What do you all think of this idea? Obviously there is a place to point out sin– I mean that’s all the prophets spent their time doing! But I’m interested that Jesus says his own purpose in coming was not to condemn the world but to save it, and that it is the job of the Spirit to convict people of sin. What should that look like for us?