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

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. 🙂


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.

Welcoming the Stranger

We have finished El Camino de Santiago! For those of you who are interested in the practical side of this experience, David will be posting on his blog what our daily life was like, what we ate, how our feet felt, and all that stuff over the next few days, and I promise to put in the links. El Camino is a pilgrimage, which for us involved hiking about 500 miles from St. Jean Pied de Port in France, to Santiago, Spain over about 31 days.

One of the most beautiful parts of the Camino is at the end, in the province of Galacia.

One of the most beautiful parts of the Camino is at the end, in the province of Galacia. So I put in a picture of that, rather than where we were walking when I had my melt-down. 🙂

It was my fourth day of walking. I had injured my toes coming down over the Pyrenees mountains on the first day, and every step made me wince with pain. I was dying to take of my constricting hiking boots and put on my flip flops, but we had left the beautiful walled city of Pamplona early that morning, and I knew there was no place to go except the town that was still seven kilometers away. It was approaching my three o’clock melt-down hour. David and I discovered that no matter how short a distance we walked, if it got to three and we were still walking, I would become an emotional wreck. By the time I hobbled into the town, blindly following David, who was scanning the streets for the tell-tale yellow arrows that point out the way to the albergue (or pilgrim refuge), my feet were throbbing. We arrived at the albergue, and the hospitalero (volunteer host) greeted us with a smile. “Welcome! Please sit down, here is a glass of water. You must be tired. Just sit here until I am done checking these other pilgrims in.” We plopped down our packs and sat, sipping cool water and glad to be off our feet and out of the sun. I read a notice stuck up to the wall: “This albergue has been welcoming pilgrims since the 1300’s when the seminary connected with this church was first opened. The seminary students hosted pilgrims, and we continue this tradition today. Welcome home.” And that’s when I burst into tears.

Welcome home, pilgrim. You’re tired. Your feet are sore. You’re hungry. You come hobbling and weary. You come pretty much empty handed. But you are welcome. This is your home.

For the past month, this is what we have been doing. Walking (or hobbling) between little villages in Spain, with only one change of clothes in our backpacks, and praying for food and a cheap place to stay (since our South African rand do not go very far in Europe). And even though I did this for days and days, it still struck me every time– this bizarre warm welcome. I’m a stranger. I don’t speak the language. I have nothing to offer. But the churches (and sometimes hippy communities) who hosted us would fling open the doors and give us a place to sit, and serve us water, or cookies, or iced tea and give us a bed for a donation. We’ve been served hearty potato soap and salad in Logrono, cooked a communal meal of soup and roast chicken with 30 of our friends we met along the Way in Granon, been served a three-course gormet vegan meal at the hippy commune in Hospital, had strawberry short cake served to us by an Arizona church group working at an alburgue run by Cru, eaten our weight five times over in spaghetti at pretty much everywhere else, sometimes just alone, but often with other pilgrims who pitch in their garlic, or salt, or wine to make the meal better.


David in the kitchen making food for 30 pilgrims with Paulo (Italian) and Cindy (Korean American) that we met on the Way. He looks too excited about that knife.

We were pilgrims, on a journey for different reasons. We wanted to see Spain, to have an adventure together before grad school, to transition between our South African home and our American home. But we also just wanted to see Christ better. That was my prayer each morning as I stuffed my feet back into my hiking boots. “Show us Christ today.” I had imagined that solitude and beautiful surroundings would have given me some kind of connection with God, but pretty much every place that I saw Christ was through people.

I know that God provides for all our needs, but the spiritual discipline of walking with basically nothing for a month, and seeing God provide again and again drove that truth very deeply into my soul. When people picture medieval Catholic churches, they probably picture stone and cold floors, hard benches, and weird icons– to us, they were warm, welcoming refuges. And we were basically just tourists- sure, we were doing this trip without a lot of money but if there had been an extreme emergency, we would have been fine. They could have charged us lots of money for a bed and food and not felt guilty about it– but they didn’t. It was in this context that I started hearing about the xenophobic attacks happening in South Africa. About poor South Africans who were frustrated with how life was no different for them then it was under apartheid, and who turned their frustration towards the immigrants and refugees who have been pouring into South Africa from other parts of Africa. Horrible, horrible violence. Not a genocide, but it suddenly made more sense how genocides can happen. And here was I, the stranger, walking through Spain with not a word of Spanish, being shown radical hospitality. I was reading the book Planted by Leah Kostamo, and this part jumped out to me:

The Greek word for hospitality–philoxenia–assumes a reaching out to those unknown. Taken apart, the word literally means love of stranger: philo, for love, and xenia, for stranger…The Hebrew Bible in one verse commands, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself, but in now fewer than 36 places commands us to ‘love the stranger.” Jesus joins the two in the parable of the Good Samaritan explaining that the stranger is really and truly also one’s own neighbor.

As I read more and more articles about the xenophobic attacks, and watched my friends Facebook feeds, I was saddened by what I saw. Often the people who were calling on others to “love the stranger” were the same ones who had been terrible at “loving their neighbors”– the poor South Africans in their communities. As this perspective, or this perspective of a poor black South African explains, “We see you coming in and giving food and blankets to the foreigners, and you’re so worried about their safety, but for the past twenty years we’ve been living in these townships and poverty, hungry and homeless and you never once came to help us.” While I don’t think anything justifies violence against other people, in these articles I could glimpse a sliver of the frustration and anger that systematic oppression had created in many people. And I realized that for many wealthy white South Africans, their neighbors are strangers.

The love of neighbor and stranger should extend to the poor, jobless refugees fleeing from violence and poverty and also to the poor, underpaid domestic worker living in your own home. It doesn’t have to be either/or. In Jesus, we see it’s both.

I’ve been a stranger for the past month. I’ve been confused about how to get where I needed to go, I’ve been needy and lost, and tired, (but I never once was living in terror for my safety or the safety of my family and friends)– and yet I’ve been welcomed by the church. I’ve been given refuge.

The parish refuge at Granon has a rule that they don't turn anyone away-- they feed and house pilgrims for whatever pilgrims can donate. In the summer, when there are lots of pilgrims, people sleep on the floor of the main church area- we got the loft since we were there in spring. When there are too many people to eat inside, they move the tables outside and have the communal meal out there.

The parish refuge at Granon has a rule that they don’t turn anyone away– they feed and house pilgrims for whatever pilgrims can donate. In the summer, when there are lots of pilgrims, people sleep on the floor of the main church area- we got the loft since we were there in spring. When there are too many people to eat inside, they move the tables outside and have the communal meal out there.

This is my prayer for South Africa. That the church will be a refuge.

That followers of Christ living in poor townships will be able to rise above the frustration and anger at the economic injustice and love the strangers in their midst.

That the followers of Christ in middle-class and affluent neighborhoods will stop living at the expense of the poor, and instead sacrificially simplify their lifestyles so that everyone has enough.

That we will welcome the strangers into our homes and our lives, and fling open our doors to give soul-weary and poor wanderers a place to call home for a while.

PS: GREAT series of blogs by Annie Diamond, a university friend, on the theme of welcoming the stranger here. You MUST read them. Dry Bones Denver, the organization she wrote these blog posts for, exists to serve the homeless youth and young adults in Denver, Colorado.