RED COUCH: Welcoming the Stranger Introduction


Red Couch -Welcoming the Stranger- IntroductionMy family history is one of skirting modern-day immigration regulations. On one branch, my ancestors arrived soon after the passengers on the Mayflower, helping to build the new Massachusetts Bay Colony. Others arrived pre-World War 1 and worked their way to the Midwest. Regardless of route, my family arrived in an era when a boat passage was paperwork enough and they came from desirable countries that posed no threat to the white Protestant population.

In Welcoming the Stranger, Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang remind us that people immigrate for a wide variety of reasons: from fleeing unsafe regimes to the prospect of higher wages and standards of living to reunification with family who live in America. Every immigrant has a unique story and journey that brought them to the decision to pursue life away from their familiar culture.

Soerens and Yang pack Welcoming the Stranger full of the debate on immigration. They feature personal stories, address misconceptions about contributions of immigrants to the economic and social aspects of our society, and cite religious precedents of caring for the foreigner. Intermixed with stories are facts and data and the appendices alone are worth the read. This is a manual for Christians to understand the actual impact of opening our doors to immigrants and retaining the United States’ foundations as a nation that welcomes all cultures.

I appreciate the depth and scope that Soerens and Yang bring to this conversation. They broke down a lot of misnomers about the effect of undocumented workers on our economy; of the actual crime statistics of those entering our country; and of the reality of working your way up in society.

The thing is, if someone is anti-immigrant, this book is not going to change their perspective. And if you’re pro-immigrant, you’ll nod along and highlight the pages. As I was writing this introduction, I wondered how to engage both sides in conversation. As much as I appreciated the well-researched statistics, those figures are not going to change anyone’s mind.

What this book loudly reminded me of is that the US national identity is rooted in immigration, but our spiritual identity is, as well. From the earliest of our spiritual ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, to the early evangelists, Christian faith uses the image of foreigner in a land over and over.

How do we reconcile biblical commands of hospitality and caring for the foreigner with our own reality of loving our neighbors? I’ve heard arguments that modern immigration cannot be compared to Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt or of Ruth choosing to live in a new culture with her mother-in-law.

But I wonder? I wonder if, as Mary and Joseph fled for their son’s life, it really is any different than parents leaving Syria, knowing that the journey is long and dangerous and that the welcome is not with open arms? I wonder if young children who are sold into sex slavery feel any less scared than Joseph did, waiting at the bottom of the well as his brothers sold him as a slave?

As you read, do pay attention to the statistics. They are eye-opening and help break down a lot of misconceptions I had. But pay real attention to the stories. They are a reminder of our call to get out and love our neighbors.

Maybe this means a smile at the playground to the mom who clearly is out of her cultural element. Maybe this is volunteering to help parents learn English at your child’s school. Maybe this looks like formal advocacy work with organizations who are officially helping immigrants.

Whatever the engagement looks like, may we engage. When we know the stories and can put real lives to the statistics, that’s when true immigration reform will happen.

Questions for Reflection:
Have you read Welcoming the Stranger? How did it shape your outlook in regards to the immigration debate?
What are some practical, real-life ways you get to know your neighbors? How do you listen to their stories?
Why do you think the Bible places significance on caring for the immigrant and foreigner?