Mark Cannon Says Hospitality Toward Muslims is Missing from American Christians’ Attempts to Help Refugees

We live in a rapidly changing world in which massive amounts of people move from one place to the next. Many people who have come from other places live on the margins of society as socially excluded international refugees or immigrants.

One out of every 122 people worldwide has left their home (Johnstone and Merrill 2016, Kindle Electronic Edition: Location 195). Globally, this movement of migrants makes up 3.2% of the world’s population (Jackson 2016, 13). These refugees are often seen as marginal strangers and off limits to normal interaction within society.

More than one million refugees poured into Europe in 2015. According to the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM), “1,005,504 migrants… entered Europe during the year—more than quadruple the number of the year before” (Johnstone and Merrill, Kindle Electronic Edition: Location 174-175). The panic and confusion caused many Europeans to lose sight of important political, social, and religious issues that come with this expansive migration (Legrain 2007, 298).

Unfortunately, this has also affected the attitude of many Christians who, due to fear and distrust, refuse to share their lives in any meaningful way with these refugees. The current reality means that “some people—including some Christians—have allowed fear to dominate the refugee conversation” (Bauman 2016, 179).

In our ministry in Spain, as we embrace refugees in our home and ministry, our lives daily become enriched by them. For example, on May 11, 2016, I had a knee replacement in Madrid. When I went into surgery, my wife sat alone in the hospital waiting room. Suddenly, some of the refugees we work with showed up to wait with her. When the doctor came out and said, “Would the family of Mark Cannon please come into my office,” they all stood and marched into his office as a group. They have become like family to us as we have been face to face and heard their stories.

Unfortunately, in spite of a large “Welcome Refugees” sign on many government buildings, our personal observations and experiences working with refugees in Spain shows the opposite. The exclusion of refugees is often the norm.

To illustrate, one of our refugee friends called to ask for our help in finding an apartment to rent. We trudged around the city and finally found a Spanish landlady to rent her apartment to our friends. However, we were shocked when two months later they were told to leave, and when asked why the tenants had been told to leave, the landlady said that she “did not know where the refugees got their money.”

A Spanish lawyer assured them that they could not be evicted since they had a signed contract and they were paying rent. Nevertheless, this story serves as an illustration of the ill-treatment and paranoia creating barriers between Christians and refugees.

In spite of the mistrust towards refugees at large in Spanish society, followers of Jesus can find an alternate response to refugees when looking to Christ and his example. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated, “It is not Christian men who shape the world with their ideas, but it is Christ who shapes men in conformity with Himself” (Bonhoeffer 1955, 82).

In this article, I demonstrate that a biblical view of hospitality can offer a corrective to the current view of refugees, including the millions of marginalized Muslims. I want to examine Luke 5:27-32, the example of Jesus’ hospitality towards marginalized Jews in his culture, and how Jesus and his apostles interacted with their undesirable foreign neighbors, the Samaritans. These interactions provide a biblical model to challenge the current attitudes regarding the refugee crisis.

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Mark Cannon is pursuing his PhD in Intercultural Studies at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, MO. For the last ten years, he has directed a community center in a Muslim community of Madrid, Spain that connects Christians with people in the community and refugees.