Who Is the Stranger Next Door?

by Mark Overstreet

In today’s politically and ethnically charged climate, many find it difficult to have healthy discussions about the role of the refugee, the obligation of the host country, the call of the Church, and the role each follower of Jesus plays in loving and meeting needs in the name of Christ.

How can Christians seek the good of their land and the good of the stranger? Is there a way forward without incendiary rhetoric and proof-texted Molotovs? How can we show Jesus and share the love of God to those in a broken and hurting world?

I recently returned from a trip where leaders gathered from several sectors to discuss the creation of a new kind of partnership. Several companies had come together to deliver first-class work through an unlikely resource—refugees from the other side of the world.

We met with many Christians in a country in order to help the outsider and the asylum seeker. In spite of the presence of numerous international agencies and organizations, these communities continue to suffer from lack of basic human needs. Through our work, we could partner together and deliver hope and bring good to those who suffered.

Some of our conversation were raw. What about prejudice? How about security? Who among the leaders harbored fears of the other race? Beyond the conscious, what about unconscious racial, religious, and other potentially divisive elements? The challenges were deep and complex.

For years, I’ve worked with communities and cultures at the ends of the earth. I work among some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, often people groups who have no access to written language, formal schools, or the gift of a common language or literacy. Working through local cultures presents significant challenges to those who enter from the outside. Creating a partnership of outsiders working with insiders to serve locals would present significant challenges. Everyone at the table knew we would need patience and God’s help to succeed. It would be messy.

In our first meetings, leaders on both sides discussed the difficulties, their desire to see each side of partnership valued, and their hope to see good accomplished through collaboration. One of the leaders exclaimed, “Can you imagine the good that could come as a result of our work?” It could be good for the families of the workers, good for their communities, and good for the cities in which they live.

Over the years, I’ve searched the scriptures and considered the plight of the sojourner wandering on foreign soil. Since the garden, there have been strangers in the land. Even as God promised Abram he would lead a nation of people who out-numbered the stars, he warned him that this nation would live as strangers in a foreign land.

Through the sons of Abraham came the son who was sent to serve in a foreign land. From Joseph, who served as a stranger in a foreign land, the nation was delivered again. Through Moses, who lived and ruled as an outsider, God raised up a servant ready to liberate a nation.

From the kings to the exile, God has covered the earth with instructions for His people—treat the outsiders with honor, for you were once refugees in a strange land. Do good to the stranger in your homeland.

Where strangers once sat and stared, separated by tribe and culture and distance, today in that country buds a partnership where strangers now call one another “brother” and “sister.” They eat, laugh, share stories, pray, sing, and worship together.

Together, they are doing good for the city—their city, and they are discussing a way forward to see their respective homelands transformed by similar programs.

By affirming the dignity and honor of every individual, irrespective of culture, we seek a movement of leaders who catalyze and sustain reconciliation and redemption through families, communities, nations, and the world.

Through the One who said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” today there’s good news in a strange land for the sojourner (Matt. 25:35). As you walk with Christ and share your faith in Jesus, how will you be the good news to them? How will you do good to your neighbor, to the stranger, to the lost? How will they see Jesus as the gospel?

Mark M. Overstreet (@moverstreet) is Founding Partner/CEO with SRV International. Mark serves fourth world cultures in leadership development and community transformation. Through worldview analysis, communication strategy, and contextualization, he co-labors with global organizations in areas including healthy partnerships, orality, mission, program architecture, strategy, and evaluation.