In the midst of fear and xenophobia that has rocked Europe and North America, churches have opened their doors and hearts in unprecedented ways to receive the other and journey with them. And as they have done so, hundreds of ‘strangers’ have become brothers and sisters.
In his book, Christ the Stranger: The Theology of Rowan Williams, Benjamin Myers tells a fascinating story. A Scottish theologian, Elisabeth Templeton, asked a group of bishops how they would answer a stranger who, waiting at a bus stop, asks them to explain the trinity in the two minutes before his bus arrived. “I would say, ‘You’ll have to be prepared to miss your bus,’ replied the first bishop. Williams turn was next. ‘I would ask the person where he is going, then accompany him on his journey.’”
Deciding to accompany someone on a journey isn’t always convenient. It can disturb our plans and mess with our get ‘er done mentality. It means we have to give up a little or a lot of our own priorities. And it can be costly, especially when the person we journey with is a stranger, is “the other”. These are the unexpected who show up at our doorstep and disrupt our plans, forcing us to think through some really hard questions.
For the past 15 months since taking on the leadership role at CBM, I have witnessed some great examples of local Canadian Baptist churches which have made costly decisions about journeying with the other. It has been hard for them. And it has taken many forms. Foremost in our minds would be the love and hospitality towards refugees. We have been part of settling more than 150 Syrian and Iraqi families, not to mention many others from various parts of the world. Other churches have extended a hand of fellowship to the *LGBTQ community. Some churches across Canada have been pursuing new relationships with Indigenous peoples in their communities. What I have seen has proven this deep- seated desire and willingness to move out of our comfort zone and “be Christ” to the other.
Our Baptist brothers and sisters in Germany have a great story worth telling. While Canada boasts of receiving more than 25,000 Syrian refugees, Germany now hosts more than one million. In the midst of fear and xenophobia that has rocked Europe and North America, churches have opened their doors and hearts in unprecedented ways to receive the other and journey with them. And as they have done so, hundreds of “strangers” have become brothers and sisters. Reports are that more than 700 Iranian Muslim background refugees have been baptized in the past year, not counting Syrians, Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani refugees.
The news in 2016 could make us all very fearful: Brexit, Donald Trump’s election, religious violence in India, near collapse of civil society in Venezuela, growing apathy towards climate change, Standing Rock and the Dakota pipeline. It would be so easy for us, as churches, to turn inward into an even tighter circle, in order to protect ourselves and our own. Sadly, throughout generations of Church history, at times of uncertainty we find examples of Christians who have failed
to engage the stranger, the other, with love, acceptance and the quest for truth. The reality is that ours is a history far from perfect. However, we must resist fight or flight mentality. We must engage.
As you read this edition of mosaic, you will discover how we, as Canadian Baptists, can overcome fear and skepticism and journey with the stranger. And in doing so, we are able to re-present Christ, the Saviour of the world, in new, rich and engaging ways. As you read this issue, ask yourself whom is God calling you to journey with in 2017?
*LGBTQ – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning