“That could be me.”
In his book, You Welcomed Me: Loving Refugees and Immigrants Because God First Loved Us, Kent Annan urges us to consider this profound statement when we see news coverage of the refugee crisis or meet refugees in person.
He reminds Americans that the vast majority of us came to America as immigrants in the past few hundred years, so we can also say, “That was me.”
Annan does not offer simplistic answers to complicated questions. He acknowledges (quoting John Stackhouse) that “No few Bible verses…can provide a shortcut past the difficult conversation we have been having, and must continue to have, about immigration policy in this country” (p. 37). I appreciate this perspective and Annan’s nuanced discussion of the balance countries have to strike between welcoming new people and preserving a stable environment for all the inhabitants of the country (including new people).
But he also refuses to let Christians turn a blind eye to immigrants. Instead, he invites us to “step toward any fears about immigrants and refugees –and then seek how God’s love illuminates” (p. 44).
The gem of Annan’s book, in my opinion, is his reminder that we must not “flatten” immigrants into two dimensional objects of pity. Rather, we must acknowledge their (and our) complex humanity (p. 74)–complete with personalities, strengths, weaknesses, virtues, vices, foibles, quirks. This frees us to move towards true friendship rather than just occasional charity.
Annan writes: “Churches who have welcomed refugees told me, ‘Now we can’t imagine our church without them.’ It’s like after getting married, like after a child is born, or like foster parenting. After we welcome the very best into our lives it’s so much more complicated and demanding than we could have ever known, but also so much richer that we can’t imagine life without welcoming.”
I have seldom come across a better description of the hardness and beauty of welcoming ministry than the above quote!
This book is pastoral, helpful, and written in a style that makes you feel like you’re sitting across from Annan at a coffee shop while he shares personally and passionately from the heart and casts a vision of what could be if believers welcomed in “the generous way of Jesus” (p. 87).