As co-founder of We Welcome Refugees, and as a family who personally welcomed and supported a refugee family from Syria and a family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we, as a family, are looking forward to World Refugee Day this Sunday, June 20th, which is an internationally recognized day designated by the U.N. to honor refugees around the globe. 

As advocates for those refugees fleeing crisis, it is Christ-like for us to take time to hear from refugees. We have so much to learn from our sisters and brothers who have stories to share — and those stories are some of the most powerful I have ever encountered: 

I once stood at the Mexican border wall and reached my hand through to pray with a woman on the other side.

She still had scissors in her hand.

She’d been bent down, rummaging through garbage heaps, just on the other side of the wall, plucking out plastic bottles, to cut the tops off for manipulatives in her kids’ classrooms. But she’d come near, and here we were praying, me holding her hand through a slot in the border wall while she was standing there holding a pair of scissors.

“The only way to see Jesus is to look at the person across from you and see that person through the cross.”

It looked like we were about to cut through all the noise to hear the heart of God—much like this book is about to cut through the confusion of these times so that you can hear the beat of God’s heart.

Through the slats in the wall, just past her, just behind her, was a steeple topped with a cross. When I looked over at her—I could see the cruciform symbol of the church everywhere—I could see light in the woman’s kind eyes.

The only way to see Jesus is to look at the person across from you and see that person through the cross.

The person on the other side of things is always an image of Jesus. Christ is the one in every crisis.

And Christ is in the crisis at all the borders—and often the crisis is at the borders, too, of our comfortableness, at the edges of our faithfulness.

The voices that speak in this book will help navigate those borders within and the borders around us and guide us toward deeper faithfulness.

With our sponsored children who were refugees in Syria

“We are all more alike than we like to think we’re all different.”

There at the wall, back behind me was a cross atop a mountain. It faced her, and that, coupled with the cross atop the church on the other side of the wall, which faced me, made me wonder whether, when we make someone else into “the other,” we have made for ourselves a god other than the One who died on the cross.

She said she had seven children. I told her I did too. And she pointed at me, eyebrows raised—you too? I grinned and tried to joke how we were both mothers of one and a half-dozen kids, and she and I, we laughed loudly in the wind, because true, good news lets everything that destroys empathy blow away like hot air and laughs with hope of healing at the days to come.

We are all more alike than we like to think we’re all different.

We find ourselves in days where it’s too often considered a radical, dangerous act to simply see our shared humanity.

But in actual fact, maybe it’s far more dangerous when we can’t see that.

What if we leaned in and listened to voices and stories and sat with the hope that we are family not because we have the same nationality—but because we bear the image of the same God.

What if we were a society that wasn’t so profoundly image conscious but was more profoundly conscious of the image of God in each other?

What if we were less devoted to projecting a certain image and were more devoted to protecting the image of God in each other?

What if we took time to honestly ask ourselves:

Why in the world are we all born where we are born?

Where we live has to mean more than getting something—it has to mean that to those who have been given much, much will be required.

“Does God command us to love the stranger more than He commands us to love Himself because loving the stranger is how we love God Himself?”

It has to mean that those who have privilege can’t live indifferently but are meant to live differently so others can simply live.

It has to mean that we are living meaningful lives only if we are helping others get to live meaningful lives.

Those seeking a meaningful life no matter where they have to go are seeking exactly what we are. They aren’t like “animals or criminals”—they are like us.

And yes, it’s true, the world and governments are complicated, but what isn’t complicated is that outreach can change the world like outrage never will. What isn’t complicated is that every single believer has to wrestle with the fact that God’s commandment to care for the stranger is more important to God than the other commandments in the Torah—even more important than the commandment to love God.

Does God command us to love the stranger more than He commands us to love Himself because loving the stranger is how we love God Himself?

Does the Torah instruct care for the stranger far more than it commands rest on the Sabbath or any other law because God doesn’t want us to rest until all laws find ways to care for the stranger?

In Lebanon. Photo by Esther Havens
With a Mama and children who are refugees who just escaped Syria: Photo by Esther Havens
With our sponsored children who were refugees in Syria
With a Mama and children who are refugees who just escaped Syria. Photo by: Esther Havens
The Farmer with our sponsored family who were refugees in Syria
Esther Havens
With a young man who was trying to survive war in Iraq. Photo by Esther Havens
With a Mama and children who are refugees who just escaped Syria. Photo by: Esther Havens
With our sponsored children who were refugees in Syria
In Lebanon with children who are refugees

I looked into the eyes of the mama of seven just like me, just on the other side of the line, who is living in a world of people who want just what we all want—a good life for our families.

***********

The crisis at the borders of the world isn’t about violent criminals; it is about those genuinely seeking asylum from violence and criminals.

“Seeking asylum isn’t a dangerously wrong thing to do; it’s a human thing to do when you’re in danger.”

Seeking asylum isn’t a dangerously wrong thing to do; it’s a human thing to do when you’re in danger.

This conversation about immigration isn’t about disregarding the law but about how to regard people made in the image of God.

And this conversation isn’t about open borders; it is about being open to the compassionate, humane treatment of fellow human beings who are trying to make the best decisions for their families, just as we are trying to do for our families.

So, how do we treat them as we would want to be treated?

Abraham, one of the fathers of faith, told a lie at the Egyptian border, and told his wife to lie, because he was driven by starvation and desperation.

How can we have anything but compassion for the same motivation?

Those who find themselves behind bars are not always against God or good laws: Samson, Joseph, Stephen, Jeremiah, Peter, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Silas, John the Baptist, Paul, and Jesus himself, the perfecter of our faith, were all jailed for seemingly breaking a law, but man’s laws are not always God’s laws, and laws change all the time, and laws can change to reflect how our hearts are reflecting more of God’s laws.

“The faithful always believe there are ways to shape laws to be faithfully just and faithfully compassionate.”

The faithful always believe there are ways to shape laws to be faithfully just and faithfully compassionate.

The faithful believe there are ways to have a deeply robust pro-life ethic, and be Pro-Pro-Pro:

Pro-life, which is to be pro-life for all life, including a refugee’s life
Pro-security, which is to be pro-life for all life, including every community’s life
Pro-flourishing, which is to be pro-life for all life, including the economic flourishing of every community.

Believers have to believe there are nuanced, considered ways to not create an “either/or” world but a “Pro-Pro-Pro” world.

Christians need not all agree on laws around immigration, but we all need to find real ways to move into Jesus’s kind heart toward those in need.

***********

The woman on the other side of the wall, she patted my hand gently and I nodded:

If any national citizenship is prioritized more than our citizenship in heaven and the care of all the citizens of earth, can any of us claim discipleship of Jesus?

In that church right behind the woman whose hand I was holding, I knew what they read—because it’s the same thing read in evangelical churches around the world:

“If any national citizenship is prioritized more than our citizenship in heaven and the care of all the citizens of earth, can any of us claim discipleship of Jesus?”

how Jesus is not only compassionate to individual persons in need but is also passionate about the structural policies that prevent showing compassion to persons in need (Luke 6:6–11).

We are truly caring about people only when we care about the policies that are truly affecting people.

And I wanted to somehow find words and tell the woman on the other side of the wall how I wonder which side of the fence I’m actually standing on.

Do I stand on the side Jesus calls the Blessed:

blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who hunger and seek for rightness . . . for they are on the right side of history?

Or do I stand on the side Jesus calls out with the Anti-Beatitudes of the Multitudes—the Four Woes of the Comfortable:

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.

Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets”?
(Luke 6:24–26)

Woe to those who are rich in comfort now,
who are well fed now, who laugh now,
who are spoken well of now . . .
for they are on the wrong side of things for all eternity.

Esther Havens
With a young man and his mother who were trying to survive war in Iraq. Photo by: Esther Havens

I looked down at my feet on this side—and her feet on the other side.

“Which side of things you are on now decides which side of forever you are on. Share what you have now, or you’ll have your share of woe forever.”

Maybe those of us who are on the comfortable side of things now will be on the hellish side of things forever.

And those who are on the poor side of things now will be on the blessed side of things forever.

Which side of things you are on now decides which side of forever you are on.

***********

I looked up and looked her in the eye. As a Canadian family, we personally sponsored other families to come live in our community, first a Middle Eastern family of six from the war-torn apocalypse that is Aleppo, Syria, and then an African family of five from the tangled bloodshed that has been the Congo.

But in that moment all I could see was Jesus: Share what you have now, or you’ll have your share of woe forever.

My chest was burning with conviction, and I tightened my grip on my sister’s hand on the other side of the wall, and I could hear it loud, reverberating off all the walls within, and it was like the rocks and the ground and the crosses on both sides of the wall were crying out with the Word of God and it was all I could hear, standing there:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14). A moment can speak to you, cut right to the quick—if you let it.

What does evangelism look like at its best? 

Evangelism can hurt sometimes. Well-meaning Christians who welcome immigrants and refugees and share the gospel with them will often alienate the very people they are trying to serve through cultural misconceptions or insensitivity to their life experiences. In No Longer Strangers, diverse voices lay out a vision for a healthier evangelism that can honor the most vulnerable—many of whom have lived through trauma, oppression, persecution, and the effects of colonialism—while foregrounding the message of the gospel. 

With perspectives from immigrants and refugees, and pastors and theologians (some of whom are immigrants themselves), this book offers guidance for every church, missional institution, and individual Christian in navigating the power dynamics embedded in differences of culture, race, and language. Every contributor wholeheartedly affirms the goodness and importance of evangelism as part of Christian discipleship while guiding the reader away from the kind of evangelism that hurts, toward the kind of evangelism that heals.

Excerpted from No Longer Strangers: Transforming Evangelism with Immigrant Communities edited by Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi Page ©2021 (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) Reprinted by permission of the publisher.