January 8, 2019
In the five months since Kent Annan began in his role as director of Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College, questions about how to respond to refugee and immigrant issues have only grown as divisive, often partisan, topics of debate—even among Christians. In his new book, You Welcomed Me: Loving Refugees and Immigrants Because God First Loved Us (InterVarsity Press), Annan helps readers work through fears and misunderstandings around these issues and invites us into stories of welcome that lead us to see the current refugee and immigrant crisis in a new light that points us to the heart of the gospel. Learn more about Annan’s book in his response to questions below.
New Book Calls Christians to Welcome Refugees and Immigrants
What made you want to write a book about the immigrant and refugee crisis?
Annan: I wrote You Welcomed Me for two reasons: the lives of people who are vulnerable are at stake, and our own lives are at stake as people who will or won’t welcome them. “Isn’t putting it that way a bit extreme?” I ask myself. But this is not an extreme reaction. Refugees had to flee danger at home, and the ones eligible to resettle here are only the most vulnerable 1 percent. We’re breaking up families with deportation; children were separated from their parents at the border. As a country we’re now receiving about 75 percent fewer refugees than the recent past. Immigrants and refugees are, it seems, being harassed, because of how they’re talked about in the public square. Our call to love our neighbors as ourselves can get warped into a call to protect Americans as ourselves. I wrote about this topic because there are legitimate concerns to be addressed and because there so much is at stake—for them and for us, as we choose whether or not to welcome. And if we choose to welcome, we need to know how to do it well.
How do you hope your book helps readers with the conflict of love and fear?
Annan: Our fear is being stoked all the time, isn’t it? Fear is used by the news to keep us watching, by headlines so we click, and by politicians for how to vote. Don’t get me wrong, fear is a legitimate response when there is real danger! But when fear starts moving us in the opposite direction of love, we need to pause, to pray, to look at the facts, to understand why we’re scared, and to ask where God’s love leads us. So this book is, I hope, a way for us to pause together—to listen to people’s stories, to economic and security research, to scripture. Where there is reason for fear, let’s be wise. And wherever there is opportunity, let’s ensure love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
Your last book was on the topic of compassion fatigue. How does You Welcomed Me address this topic?
Annan: You Welcomed Me gives us a chance, whatever our political leaning, to step out of any fatigue we’re feeling about this issue to ground ourselves in what is most important and life giving. For example, it helps to recognize that the refugee and immigrant crisis is actually a spiritual issue. This is God’s work in which we’re called to do our best to love our neighbors. This is a controversial issue, but I hope the book leads people into freedom and joy as they help others.
Why does thinking in terms of “that could be me” help to empathize with refugees and immigrants?
Annan: We can think, “Whew, glad that’s not me.” We can think, “That would never happen to me.” Or we can empathize and really imagine “That could be me”—which is dangerous, in a Jesus kind of way. Because then our imaginations lead us toward loving our neighbors as ourselves. Now how I pray, vote, give, talk, and act is shaped by how that could be me trying to escape bombs in Aleppo carrying my children, like one mom I talked with in Jordan who was a refugee. I hope the book helps us grow in empathy for refugees and immigrants, which is beautiful and a bit risky. Growing in love is always risky.
How does this book connect to your work at Wheaton?
Annan: As director of Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership, I teach and advise students in our M.A. in Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership program. Many of our students are deeply engaged in these issues, and it’s been exciting to share my experiences and work through their questions together as they prepare to go out into the field in ways that will directly impact these issues. Next semester I’ll be teaching a course in “Refugee and Forced Migration Issues,” which will really dig into these issues from both a historical and practical perspective. And we’ve had the opportunity to bring these issues to the whole campus through events like the forum we co-hosted with World Relief Dupage/Aurora for the book launch party, which featured incredible speakers Dr. Saul Ebema, a former refugee from Sudan who’s now a senior pastor at Lombard Bible Church, Liz Dong, who co-founded Voices of Christian Dreamers, and Marissa Voytenko, an artist who volunteers with refugee women and creates work that engages the refugee crisis. We also heard an update about HDI’s project equipping pastors and church leaders in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya to better understand and respond to trauma in their congregations. I’ve been excited to see how much interest Wheaton students have in learning more about these issues and how to love their refugee and immigrant neighbors as a natural extension of God’s love for them.
Fence Photo by Min An from Pexels