All through the Bible, Jews and Christians are told to welcome the "stranger" in the land. "Stranger" being foreigner.
I understood the concept when I was a kid, but it wasn't until I was a foreigner myself for three years that I really got it. Foreigners are vulnerable. They often (though certainly not always) come not knowing the language or the way to navigate the most basic interactions.
It's exciting to be a foreigner, but it's terrifying, too. In my small town (of 500,000) in South Korea, there were an estimated 100 foreigners. In reality, there were laborers from developing countries across Asia who weren't included. But we were still a tiny minority.
Among the locals was a woman who ran a small noodle shop that was famous throughout the city, partly because the owner made the best noodles and fresh kimchi in the whole country and partly because of who she wouldn't let pay.
On the list of mandatory freeloaders were high school students — because they had to work so hard — and foreigners. And this woman wasn't interested in giving the occasional meal. She told me to come every day.
As tempting as the offer was — did I mention these were among the best noodles I've ever eaten? — I couldn't bring myself to do it unless I knew I'd be with a large group of people whose money she would take.
One day I got the courage to ask, via a college student who served as translator, why I wasn't allowed to pay. She said if she were ever a foreigner, she hoped people would take care of her.
And there you have it. An extreme example of welcoming the stranger and following Jesus' command to do to others what we want them to do to us.
And so I begin this Lent standing in solidarity — if only with a click of a button — with my Syrian brothers and sisters. Because they're the stranger. And because I hope someone would do the same if I became a refugee.
But don't you know they could be terrorists?
Of course I do. I don't think it's likely, but that's neither here nor there, is it?
I don't think Jesus gives us an out because things are difficult or dangerous. I'm sure of this because he didn't give himself an out. When he said, "Take up your cross and follow me," he wasn't talking about a difficult task. He was talking about an instrument of torture and death.
I've been quite disturbed lately to hear people using Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan as an argument against welcoming refugees from Syria.
The theory is that the Samaritan took the man on the road to an inn, not to his own home.
The folks spreading this argument aren't taking into account a couple of things. First, the Samaritan was the foreigner. Of course he didn't take the man home. He would have been dead by then. He took him to the nearest place he could. Even though he was a foreigner, of a different and despised religion.
Christians and danger
One of the most amazing stories I've been privileged to hear is about the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. During World War II, this tiny village of French Protestants rescued approximately 5,000 refugees, mostly Jews.
The leaders faced Nazi prisons, and they could easily have been killed. The entire village risked everything. But they took care of these people — people who were of a different faith and culture at great danger to themselves — simply because they wanted to be obedient to God.
I was looking for photos of Le Chambon and came across this one from 2010. The villagers are participating in Cercles de Silence, a French movement of silent protest of the detention of refugees and unregistered immigrants.
So how can you welcome the stranger in your land? Are there places you are being called to risk during this Lenten season?