My friend Ted tells the story of when he first moved with his family to Southern California. His wife and kids had gone to the grocery store and as they were walking out toward the parking lot, grocery bags in hand, they saw a gentleman in a very large vehicle park in the narrow spot immediately next to their car. As he opened his door, it slammed into their car. Realizing that his door had made a dent in their door, he looked up to see that what he did was just just witnessed by a woman and her children, and it was their car. Ted’s wife approached the vehicles and, thumbing the damage on her door, simply said, “Don’t worry about it, it’s just a car.” The man was was taken aback and, shaking his head, said, “You’re not from around here, are you?”
Indeed, none of us are from around here. This world is not our home and we are citizens of another kingdom. Yet how many of us act like this is our land, this is our place, this is our world? Worse, how many of us get territorial and assume that the borderlines on a map actually mean something to our sense of eternal identity and belonging? This is my country, my county, my community.
The Old Testament is packed with stories about how to welcome outsiders. From immigrants and aliens to strangers and wanderers, God had plenty to say about how we treat the outsider. The New Testament, however, mentions nothing about welcoming strangers, aliens or immigrants. Such language is absent. As my friend Ted points out, the reason is because the New Testament implies that we’re all aliens. All of us are outsiders and we are grafted into a new kingdom.
Countries all over the world deal with issues of immigration and welcoming—or not welcoming—outsiders. In the U.S., this has been an increasing issue of debate, especially over the past decade, as some states within the U.S. have begun to establish their own immigration laws. This will undoubtedly be another major issue facing churches when it comes to how we will uphold the law and serve our neighbor. When the two are in conflict, as a recent New York Times article points out, it doesn’t take much to understand the complexities.
This site is not the place to debate immigration laws or how right or wrong each side may be. My purpose for suggesting this subject here is because as church communicators, we must make sure our language lines up. We must be about welcoming the stranger and outsider because that is who we all are. None of us belong here and, for those of us who are on the Jesus way, we have been adopted as an undeserving outsider into a kingdom not our own. In all of our communication—promo, signage, architecture, language options and stories—we must always remember the outsiders. The ones who don’t belong.
It’s easy to to see who Jesus welcomed because he didn’t base it on race, citizenship, socioeconomic status, gender or what neighborhood they were from. We should do the same.
For more on this subject—especially as it relates to non-U.S. citizens, unDocumented.tv does a great job resourcing this topic. The book by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate is also a great resource. In addition, Ken Walker wrote an excellent series for the Foursquare denomination about how local churches throughout the U.S. are welcoming strangers. (Full disclosure: I work with Foursquare.)
May we all be listening for the encouraging accusation, “You’re not from around here, are you?”