In a time in which every aspect of American life is politicized, issues surrounding immigration and the global refugee crisis are at the center of the political firestorm. For Christians, the issue is especially fraught, as we are challenged to think biblically—which often means going against the prevailing culture.You Welcomed Me is a slender, but powerful, meditation for Christians living in relative economic, political, and spiritual comfort, offering a challenge to us to reflect on how we think about the strangers who live—or seek to live—among us.
In his book, You Welcomed Me, Kent Annan steps in the middle of this firestorm, creating a sense of calm even as he deals with complex issues. Annan does so by drawing on his nearly two decades spent working with refugees, both in other parts of the world and in the United States, as well as a rich understanding of the biblical truths of hospitality and the call for Christians to see the world the way Jesus sees it.
You Welcomed Me is a slender, but powerful, meditation for Christians living in relative economic, political, and spiritual comfort, offering a challenge to us to reflect on how we think about the strangers who live—or seek to live—among us. The book functions as a sort of primer for readers uninitiated in thinking about the global refugee crisis, with chapters addressing everything from practical concerns about the realities of immigration to ways of addressing these concerns. But with the depth and range of Annan’s personal experience infusing each page, the book also works as a refresher course for readers already engaged in the work of welcoming strangers.
In his chapter “Form a Human Chain,” Annan recalls the story of several swimmers off the coast of Panama City, Florida who were caught in a riptide. In order to save them, beachgoers waded into the water and formed a human chain of nearly 80 people—many of whom couldn’t swim themselves—to reach the swimmers, passing the exhausted, spent bodies along the chain to safety on the beach.
It’s a powerful image, one that suggests the way that cooperative effort to help other humans in distress can transcend individual weakness—as long as we are willing to wade in. Annan writes:
Almost all of us struggle sometimes to glimpse hope through our darkened window into the world. You don’t have to be in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Middle or upper class, the loss of a child, depression, cancer, a million things sap our hope. Life is harder for some, but is in ways a struggle for all of us. When we become part of a chain of welcoming, we can glimpse hope through the shadow. We can see that in some way, even if it looks far away, we’re heading toward the shore.
You Welcomed Me successfully erases the line between us and them as Annan asks the reader to consider that any one of us could be refugees; our position of comfort and our sense of belonging could be taken from us in a moment, and we could be the ones fleeing a burning house in a war zone or the violence of a cartel. Annan challenges us to in our tendency to dehumanize what—or who—is foreign to us. This should be anathema to the Christian, people who are, ourselves, strangers in a strange land, with an understanding that each person is made in the image of God. At the end of each chapter, Annan brings this truth to life through a section he calls “practice,” in which he poses a series of questions designed to generate contemplation and action.
The strongest element in You Welcomed Me is a sense of optimism, the belief that small acts make a big difference in the wide ocean of human suffering. Even while recounting the stories of despair that lead to displacement, You Welcomed Me does not indulge in hopelessness. The last chapter takes the phrase “here is life”—inspired by the name of a nonprofit agency in Uganda—as a sort of recurring mantra.
“Here is life when you are very welcoming.
Here is a life of love—worth living and worth living together.”
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