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December 31, 2015

somewhere in between

In 2015 all of us were forced to think about war, refugees and immigration, perhaps more than ever before. In previous years the wars and conflicts in other regions may have felt distant to those of us who live in the West, but in 2015 they came closer. Twice this year we heard of horrible massacres in Paris. My BBC news app offers regular updates about killings in other countries and growing tensions worldwide. If you live in the West, your country has probably both taken in a new wave of refugees this year and gotten more directly involved in attacking the country most of the refugees have escaped. This year it has become increasingly clear that the battles being fought so far away are not just a concern of others, but a concern of ours.

For us, 2015 brought interaction with real people escaping real war. Twice this year I visited the city near us where refugees find shelter and try to maintain some semblance of normalcy when nothing about their situation is normal. When a Syrian teenager had us over for supper and described having to show his ID to masked fighters when leaving his country, I almost felt a chill go down my spine. When another Syrian friend posted pictures of a bombing near his home, the war felt closer again. A friend cast a shadow over my birthday plans by telling me that people were avoiding the city I wanted to visit, in case the Paris attackers came there next. War and terror have never before breathed their hot breath down my neck like they have this year.

If we watch the news or listen to Western news sources, we probably want to end 2015 with our windows latched, our doors double-locked, and definitely with no Musl!ms in our homes. Yet for me the irony of this year has been hearing more international stories of terror than ever before, while at the same time having positive interactions with a wider variety of internationals than ever before. 



Freelance work has brought many international clients into my world in 2015. I have not met most of my clients, but through interacting with them online I've realized that there are a lot of kind clients out there. The H!ndu paid me on time and was pleasant. The secularists were good to work for. In fact, the only client who ran away without paying me was a conservative Jewish rabbi (who perhaps needs to reacquaint himself with the Ten Commandments). Working successfully with people around the world reminded me that there are decent people in every culture.

Hospitality has brought many international guests to our table in 2015. We have shared meals with people of 20 or so different nationalities. At our table, a Tunisian listened attentively to and interacted with our view on abortion. A couple of Pakistanis who ate with us challenged my stereotypes about what people from their country are like. A Togolese girl from a polygamy-practicing family lit up our home with her genuine smile. There are many more internationals in our area than there were at the beginning of 2015, and interacting with ordinary people on a personal level is far different than seeing masked extremists on a screen. Our interactions with them have been positive overall.

I wanted to title this post "The immigrants are not as bad as you think they are." But that is not the whole truth. Sin has ravaged our hearts and if anything, people (ourselves included) are worse that we think they are. I am not advocating that we should trust just anyone of any culture. Both professionally and personally, we take precautions with strangers. We are not ignorant: we know that some of my clients or our guests may believe in or talk about things that are disrespectful, violent, crude or derogatory. The leaders of Western nations also need discernment to know which strangers to allow into their land, because there is evil in every human's heart and because what the West considers evil, some cultures consider good.

However, in a sense it is true that "The immigrants are not as bad as you think they are." The media portrays radicals, but most people are not radicals.
There are Musl!ms who are more spiritually open,
H!ndus who are more hospitable,
and pagans who are more reliable
than those who claim Christ's name.
There are internationals around us who hate war and violence much more than we do, because they know it much better than we do. It is not their upbringing or their religious label that necessarily makes an immigrant a safe or unsafe person.

Perhaps a better title for this post would be "Immigrants are not as different as you think they are." They're sinful just like us. They need Hope just like us. They need clients and friends just like us. How better to evidence the Hope that is within us than by interacting with them in our professional and personal lives with a balance of wisdom and warmth, intelligence and integrity?


As this year closes, I'm still hearing mixed messages. Some media sources would scare us into locking our doors. Others encourage us to fling them open widely, no questions asked. Some voices are talking about the violent directions given in other "holy" books and telling us to be wary of all foreigners. Other voices are encouraging blind acceptance in the name of Christian charity with catchphrases like "Jesus was a refugee in Egypt". But (lest we be extremists ourselves) I believe that God calls us to live somewhere in between the extremes. 

How His people respond to war, refugees and immigration may not be a black and white, open-and-shut case. But this I know: His people will live in the fear of God, not in the fear of man. They will carefully and prayerfully discern what striking the balance in between grace and truth (or love and truthlooks like in each situation. They'll confidently walk through the doors God has allowed violence to push wide open in 2015. And "the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits"—those "good works, which God prepared in advance for [them] to do."

PS - Don't tell the media, but we're not locking our doors as we enter 2016. We told a Syrian Musl!m friend that he can celebrate New Year's with us, in our home.




Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.
So be as shrewd as snakes and as harmless as doves.
—J'esus

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. 
Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell."
—J'esus

"...the people who know their God 
shall be strong, and carry out great exploits."
—from a vision delivered to Daniel


"These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.... Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown..."
—J'esus to the church at Philadelphia


"For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance...will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?"
—Mordecai to Esther

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