The stranger among us

December 7th, 2015

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. — Hebrews 13:1-2

For Christians, what has always been a biblical and theological concern has increasingly become a polarizing political issue after the recent terrorist attacks — welcoming the stranger among us. We won’t find the answers in politics.

I have greatly appreciated the thoughtful responses of various United Methodist leaders. One came from Dr. David Watson of United Theological Seminary. I encourage you to read his “Should Christians welcome Syrian refugees into the United States?” blog post. Dr. Tim Tennant, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, provided another when he announced that the seminary would be willing to house a Syrian refugee family. I don’t believe that Dr. Watson and Dr. Tennant are on the same political — or even theological — page all of the time. But, on the issues of refugees, they speak with a common voice.

I was asked to write an op-ed that would express my own discernment about “the strangers among us,” which I have shared below.


A month ago, my colleague and friend Dan Bracken traveled to Beirut to see for himself the current situation so many Syrian refugees are facing. It was a difficult trip, and Dan was challenged by what he saw. We were all deeply shaken when, just days after his return, terrorist bombs exploded in the very same neighborhood where Dan had walked, played with children, and talked with Syrians there. Being a Syrian refugee these days, fleeing from the violence and persecution that is so rampant in that country, is truly a life-harrowing experience.

While some have protested welcoming refugees from certain global trouble spots, including Syria, my experience has shown me that our differences can make us a stronger and more diverse community. I believe as followers of the refugee Christ that we are called to welcome refugees arriving from across the world, while also balancing compassionate action with a careful and conscientious vetting process.

Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio, where I serve as lead pastor, has reached out to Sudanese refugees who have resettled in the Dayton area over the past decade. We have helped with material needs, provided transportation and overnight childcare when adults traveled to U.S. polling places to vote for South Sudan’s independence, and watched some not only graduate from college but also become U.S. citizens. It has been a privilege to watch the children of this thriving community grow into a new, diverse generation of Americans.

This Advent, Ginghamsburg Church is working with United Methodist agencies and churches across the country to raise funds for the global migration crisis. We are challenging our congregations to spend only half of what they normally do on their own family Christmas and to bring the rest for a sacrificial miracle offering for serving refugees.

As a pastor, I urge every member of our communities to reach out in love to those who are arriving from war-torn areas of the world, as well as to those displaced across the globe. I urge our elected officials to resist making absolute decisions about who is allowed to come to the U.S. based on religion or region, carefully vetting and then appropriately relocating the vulnerable who need our help.

Our country was founded on the hard work, determination and skills of generations of immigrants from all countries, religions and backgrounds. Our differences should not divide us, but strengthen us.

Love will always overcome hate. As Christians entering into this expectant time of advent, let’s welcome those seeking healing and hope as we build strong communities of acceptance, inclusivity and harmony.


We have a powerful opportunity this Advent to demonstrate our care for those who are suffering, victims of a global migration crisis that impacts nearly 60 million lives. Please access the Beyond Bethlehem resources at and encourage our families and our churches to generously honor Jesus on his birthday as we provide for refugees via Advance #3022144.

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