You are welcome here. Those words disarm us. We can let our guards down and feel safe when we feel welcome. But we live in a world that is nervous about welcoming others, about risking comfort and security. Kent Annan will tell you to take the risk: choose love over fear. He beautifully describes the power of “welcome” in this story about his son who asks, “Are we for or against them?” We are for them and welcome them, Kent shows, because as the title of his book reminds us, when we welcome others–into our homes, churches, neighborhoods, and even our country–Jesus says, “You welcomed me.” It’s a grace to welcome Kent to the farm’s front porch today…
Do you remember what it means when people are refugees or immigrants?” I ask my eight-year-old son.
“Yes, Dad. We talked about that last week. Remember?”
“I’m going to write my next book about this.”“Okay. But wait, are we for them or against them?”
“For them. Remember. Being a refugee means someone had to run away from something bad, like war. They had to leave home, leave everything behind. Can you imagine if we had to leave our house and your school and move somewhere far away, where they speak another language, because we weren’t safe? And an immigrant is coming to somewhere new, which is usually hard too. We want to be people who help people in hard situations, right?”
“Sure. But some people we are against, right? Why?”
“I think people are nervous or scared about a few things. Safety is one. They don’t want any bad people to get in who could hurt them. They also think people might take their jobs. And new people can bring change with them—like a different language, culture, or religion that they don’t want.”
“Okay, watch this move. You stand right there. I’m going to jump off the couch and kick you. You try to block my kick, but you won’t be able to because the crane kick cannot be defended.”
We’d watched the old Karate Kid as our family movie the night before, so 95 percent of the conversation then turned to punches, kicks, “not that hard!” and laughter. I knew the movie might put the rest of our family in danger for a few days as my son works out his new Karate Kid techniques.
But as we keep talking, in between indefensible crane kicks—and in the future as he keeps getting older—I want him to recognize what is at stake:
- Love versus fear
- Who we want to be
- What home is
- How we deal with real concerns
- How we make difficult decisions about responding to other people’s suffering when there isn’t enough for everyone to meet their own wants and needs—in this world that gives lots to some and crushes others
- Wisdom versus naiveté versus ideals
- The future of our nation
- The way ethnicity and race affect lives and relationships
I love being a dad. Besides spontaneous karate battles with my son, I keep finding that my kids expose my generosity and my hypocrisy, my love and my selfishness.
They reflect myself back to me. What we model is more important than what we say.
How we answer my son’s question, “Are we for or against them?” reveals a lot about what kind of family, community, and country we want to be.
After the answer comes the work to understand the nuances and navigate the complexity. As adults, we know there is usually a cost to being our best selves—and that it’s ultimately worth the price.
How can we live into a vision that chooses love over fear?I want my son to see that we’re for them. I want my son to see we could be them. I want my son to hear that Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Inspiring, demanding words to live by. These words invite us to embrace our common humanity and risk love.
“That could be me” at face value can be a selfish formulation. But it can also lead our imaginations down the path toward deeper empathy and love—because it recognizes the stranger as ourselves and helps us choose to be for.
That could be me unable to find work, so my child can’t go to school and his hair is turning rust-colored because of malnutrition. I’ve walked along dirt paths and talked with dads and moms in Haiti who give all they can to provide for their children, and it’s not nearly enough. I saw them move to the Dominican Republic to work awful jobs cutting sugar cane, never seeing their families so they could support their families.
That could be me having to leave my family behind, crossing a border and a desert to work grueling days picking tomatoes or strawberries in the Florida sun, hunched over doing work nobody local would do, so I can send money back to my children who I don’t get to see for months on end.
That could be me without a home, without a place that isn’t haunted by fear and uncertainty.
That could be me, one of the Syrian refugees in whose home I sat drinking tea in Mafraq, Jordan. They lost their home, left all they had behind. They also talked, four years into being refugees, about how hard it was without full rights to work or start a business in their host country when they had lost everything. Though they longed to return, they had no idea if or when they’d go back to Syria—and meanwhile weren’t really even able to start over. On average, refugees are away from their home country for more than ten years.
That could be me loving my neighbor as myself—and discovering that in the deepest sense we’re all exiles trying to find home. Following Jesus means to some extent confessing that we don’t have a permanent home here. We want to belong most of all to God’s kingdom coming.
We’re also to live with an eye to helping widows and orphans out on the margins.
This isn’t liberal wishy-washiness or conservative literalism.
This is the rigorous life of love worth living, love that opens the world to us, that leads us toward discovery and transformation.
It leads toward the discomfort of growth.
We carry the weight of caring and then find our hearts grow stronger.
Kent Annan is director of humanitarian and disaster leadership at Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute and cofounder of Haiti Partners, a nonprofit focused on education in Haiti. He also serves on the board of directors of the Equitas Group, a philanthropic foundation focused on ending child exploitation in Haiti and Southeast Asia. Kent is the author of Slow Kingdom Coming, After Shock, and Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle.
In You Welcomed Me: Loving Refugees and Immigrants Because God First Loved Us, Kent Annan explores how fear and misunderstanding often motivate our responses to people in need, and invites us instead into stories of welcome—stories that lead us to see the current refugee and immigrant crisis in a new light. Annan invites us to answer his son’s question with confident conviction:
“We’re for them”—and to explore with him the life-giving implications of that answer. Kent also lays out simple practices for a way forward: confessing what separates us, listening well, and partnering with, not patronizing, those in need. A companion family toolkit is also available at YouWelcomedMe.org.
[ Our humble thanks to InterVarsity Press for their partnership in today’s devotion ]