Feature

The Power of Belonging

Reaching out to the people God sends you

By

“America is difficult. I feel alone. I am single and sometimes feel isolated.”

It was a cold day in Dearborn, Michigan, and my friend, Sami, looked tired as he sipped his hot chocolate.

Sami, an artist, is a refugee from Iraq. “Even though I didn’t understand anything about Christianity,” Sami said, “most of my artwork was about Jesus. I was drawn to Him. I learned about Him from studying the great artists of the Renaissance.”

He was a student of fine arts at a prestigious university in Baghdad when the war in Iraq started. Life became difficult, so he fled to Jordan. Shortly after Sami arrived, he visited an evangelical church in Amman—and loved it. The next Sunday, Sami gave his life to Christ.

“I couldn’t wait for church,” Sami said. “I grew so much. I started to use my artwork for Jesus and also learned to play guitar and lead worship.”

After nine years in Jordan, Sami felt he needed a change, especially because he was a refugee. He applied for resettlement at the American embassy and was granted permission to enter the United States under refugee status. He arrived in America with high hopes and a big dream.

Three years later, sitting in a Starbucks in Michigan, Sami lamented that he didn’t know what the future held. “My hope is that God will use me to bring people to Jesus—especially people with a Muslim background. I want to use my art for Jesus. I have many dreams and many projects I’d like to do.”

And he has questions: why aren’t things working out like he thought? Why did he lose his job and have to go on unemployment? Sami is like many immigrants in our cities and towns: alone and uncertain of the future. These feelings are magnified for those whose families still live overseas.

In our economic times, people in general, not just immigrants, feel more and more like strangers. And ironically, in today’s world of instant entertainment and connectivity at our fingertips, the executive down the street and the housewife exhausted at the end of the day can feel isolated if the only input they get in their lives is from hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

So what can we, as members of the Body of Christ, do? How can we be people who invite the lonely and the stranger into the greatest family of all—the Kingdom of God?

Reach Out

There is a myth that Christians need to go out and “find” people with whom they can share the gospel. This can have various forms, such as door-to-door evangelism, passing out tracts or giving surveys to people in the mall.

Of course, these methods aren’t necessarily bad. However, as we live life—going to work, engaging in our communities, raising our kids—God will open up our eyes to the needs of people around us. When Jesus led His disciples to different towns and through many kinds of circumstances, the needs of the people always became apparent: a woman at a well engaging the Messiah in a life-changing conversation, a tax collector begging for forgiveness, a leper crying out for healing.

We evangelicals put a lot of pressure on ourselves to find strangers with whom we can share the gospel. But people are all around us, and many of them feel alone and vulnerable. They are looking for someone to care about them.

Recover Hospitality

I live in one of the largest Arabic-speaking communities outside of the Middle East: Dearborn, Michigan. And in Dearborn, you see hospitality lived out. Why? Because it’s a part of the cultural DNA for people from the Middle East.

For example, if I meet members of a new Arabic family on our street, often they will insist on giving me food or inviting me to eat with them. Every time I visit their homes, they always—no matter the time of day or night—make me food, coffee and tea. It’s what they do.

Throughout Scripture, God continually tells His people to not forget the stranger. In the Old Testament God consistently reminds His people not to forget the alien, the widow and the poor. He wants to remind Israel that they too were once a people who were strangers, with no place of their own.

In Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine Pohl writes: “Israel understood itself as chosen by God and owing to God its singular loyalty and obedience. Israel’s requirement and capacity to love aliens, to meet its social, economic, and legal obligation to them, was embedded in its relationship with God.”

In a word, as God’s people learn to identify themselves as chosen, they are then to offer that invitation to others—and specifically to the marginalized and the destitute. Interestingly, philoxenia, the Greek word translated as “hospitality” in the New Testament, literally means “love of stranger” (philo—“love” denoting affection and belonging; xenon—“stranger”).

Clearly, one of the main ways we express our belonging to God is by reaching out to others in need and helping them see that they too can belong to God.

So how do we do this? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Invite a new immigrant to your home for a meal. Many have never spent time in an American home.
  • Volunteer at a refugee organization in your area. World Relief, for example, is a Christian organization that partners with churches and individuals to help tutor in English or to provide a welcome pack of household items when an immigrant or refugee arrives at the airport.
  • Bring food to a widow or single mom in your community.
  • Find out if there is a student-exchange program at a nearby college or high school and see if you can get involved.
  • If you live in a city that has a military base, reach out to spouses of deployed or newly assigned servicemen and –women.

Be creative. Look for ways you can intentionally practice hospitality and help a “stranger” belong.

My Iraqi friend, Sami, represents how many people in our culture feel. They want to know they matter. They want to see their dreams achieved. And sometimes, all they need is someone to say, “I care about you. I believe in you.”

Jesus helped people who felt they didn’t fit in. When we seek to help others belong, when we see needs around us and practice hospitality, we tap into God’s purpose: a Kingdom for everyone who believes.

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