*You can find an updated version of this article here: "4 Opportunities for Hospitality: Welcoming Immigrants"
Graphic images depict the suffering, fear, and despair of people fleeing or escaping from bad situations worldwide. Political unrest and war have caused vast displacements of people in the past two decades. More recently, we have added countless people impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic seeking refuge in places where they hope to find medical assistance, food, or jobs. Despite the local lockdowns and shelter in place orders, people continue to be on the move, and many are finding their way to Canada.
Welcoming strangers has become one of our greatest needs and significant challenges as Christians in Canada.
The Need to Belong
Traditional hospitality and interaction with people are obstructed by the measures taken to protect our population, but the basic needs of humanity persist.
Along with food, shelter, and security, people need to belong. We have an essential requirement for community in our lives.
How we find, and experience community varies. It is frequently found within the family, friendships, religious fellowship, workplace, sports teams, and other special interest groups. Most of us like to be with other people, at least some of the time.
As new immigrants arrive in Canada, they are looking for connections. They may have friends or family members here, but often they come, leaving all their close personal relationships behind. In addition, they may be learning a new language, experiencing a foreign culture, learning where to find foods and products they are familiar with, and trying to fit in.
How can churches and individuals help?
Opportunities for Hospitality
Based on research conducted during the Syrian refugee crisis, I learned that there were great opportunities for Christians to demonstrate hospitality to these immigrants. By doing so, Christians experienced new spiritual vitality as individuals and as congregations.
As I interviewed Canadian pastors, I learned valuable lessons to help us create a community for new arrivals in Canada.
I will offer four suggestions for individuals and congregations. (Note, these principles apply to any stranger, not just immigrants or refugees.)
1. Recognize our Identity as Fellow Wanderers
In a physical sense, most Canadians are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, but Canada is not our permanent home in a spiritual sense. Peter recognizes the transient nature of the Christian's existence in this world and reminds us that our permanent citizenship is not here. (1 Peter 2:9-12).
Canada is a mosaic of people from all over the world. Each of us has a history and journey that converge here, but this is not our final destination.
2. Be a Learner
It is easy to get into relationship ruts where we continue to connect with the same comfortable people.
However, don't be afraid to make new friends.
Be inquisitive and learn something new from the people you meet. When you meet newcomers in Canada, invite them to share their home, family, and culture. (Acts 8:26-35). When we ask questions and become more familiar with others, we discover things in common. Familiarity erases fears and resentments, creating a path for true friendship.
I recently moved. Now, I’m the new guy on the block and a visible minority in this community. As I walk my dogs in the morning, I try to speak with everyone I meet. Last week I received a gift of fresh corn from a neighbor. I want to be a true friend to my neighbors.
3. Live like Jesus
Living like Jesus is all-consuming but not that complicated.
As we study the life of Jesus, we see that he lived with real people, with real problems, and loved them. If Jesus lived in my community today, he would greet people in the market, talk to people on the street, and connect with people at the park. My neighbors would know him for his kindness, love, and concern for them. (Luke 19:1-10)
As Christians, we should engage with the people around us and share in their interests. As Churches, we should engage in serving our community and being agents of love and transformation.
4. Repent and Pray
I am not always a great example of the things I have preached. I haven't always been a good neighbor. I miss many opportunities to serve and care for others because I am too busy caring for myself. As God points out these failures in my life, I must repent and learn to do better (Matthew 7:1-5).
This month, I have struggled with a friend who has made some big decisions that I'm afraid I have to disagree with. I am spending a lot of time praying for this friend and my attitude. The Holy Spirit shows me that I need to address the log in my own eye before pointing out the speck in my brother's eye. I am learning to see him with the eyes of Jesus and love him unconditionally.
Our world is very complex and changing. The pandemic has disrupted most of our routines and changed the way we live, but it does not change our need for each other.
Hospitality does not have to be complicated. There are simple things that we can do to live out the words of Jesus and love one another. I hope that you can identify with one or more of the suggestions above and ask the Lord to guide you as you welcome strangers into your life.
Dr. Craig Kraft is the Executive Director of Outreach Canada. After 15 years of pastoral ministry in western Canada, Craig, with his wife Heather, served with OC in southern Africa before returning to lead the ministry in Canada. Craig is a graduate of Northwest Baptist Seminary at ACTS and a graduate of Asia Graduate School of Theology with a Doctor of Intercultural Studies. His study has focused on diaspora missiology in Canada. His dissertation explores the potential for revitalizing Canadian churches through the practice of biblical hospitality with refugees and immigrants. Craig loves to watch sports, work in the yard & spend time in the woods.