When Were You the Stranger?


You know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

                                                      -Exodus 23:9

At different times in our lives, we are all the stranger, standing at the threshold hoping for a word of welcome. As children, when we enter kindergarten we are indeed the stranger – to new surroundings and new expectations. Later as adults, we often find ourselves in the role of the stranger – in college, in the workplace, in new communities. Being the stranger is fundamental to the human experience. Simply being, living, moving through the life cycle, we will at times find ourselves strangers in an alien land – confused, seeking, and hoping for a warm welcome.

Perhaps it is for this reason that some of us find ourselves in the story of God’s people. For our Hebrew mothers and fathers were indeed strangers in an alien land. Their physical journey from bondage in Egypt, through the wilderness, toward the Promised Land, parallels our own life journey with many twists and unexpected turns, taking us to lands unknown, both physical and spiritual.

There is a life-altering debate in our country right now regarding immigration – who to open our doors to and who to keep at arm’s length. Which religious minorities to let in and which to keep out. Whether to build a wall or not to build a wall. To separate children from their parents or to keep them together. Even to provide a toothbrush and soap or not to provide a toothbrush and soap!

Cradled within these discussions often lies xenophobia, a fear of that which is foreign or strange. This sense of the ‘other’ lies at the heart of racism, sexism, heterosexism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and more.

Send Her BackThis fear has now spread beyond those seeking entry into the US, to those who are already American citizens of many years but were born in another country. Chants by thousands of Americans at yesterday’s NC Trump Rally of “Send her back! Send her back!” are alarming and dangerous. Shouted in reference to Somali-born Rep. Ilhan Omar, the chants represent the height of fear of the other, a fear that has reached a frightening pitch in our country, a fear many of us never thought to see expressed by thousands of chanting Americans in the 21stcentury.

There is an urgency to heeding these words from the Book of Exodus that has not existed since the Civil Rights era when these same chants were used to taunt African-Americans who longed for equal education. People of faith, regardless of political persuasion, cannot look the other way. This depth of hatred for those born in other countries must stop and it must stop today.

How different the response might be if we could connect with our own experience of being the ‘other’, the stranger. It is not us versus them, it is all humankind together, struggling to find the common good. It is the most damaging kind of Fake News when we are made to believe that some people are more worthy than others, that some have the right to label and belittle others, that some have the right to stir up hatred and fear. Events in our country might look very different if viewed through the lens of this passage.

Can you remember a time when you were the stranger? How did you feel?

This entry was posted in Immigration, Justice Issues, NC Trump Rally, Reflections on Life. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to When Were You the Stranger?

  1. Angela FoxNo Gravatar says:

    The film “All Saints,” in which I was so lucky to play a major role in , is all about embracing “the other.” Its message echoes your eloquent words, dear friend. This race is a marathon and we will prevail.

  2. YES WE WILL, ANGIE! All Saint’s is a film for our time. I was so proud my friend was one of the stars.
    Many blessings,

  3. Dear Rev
    I find your article, esp the very beginning so comforting. Now I have learnt that at least i have to accept that through some decisions I make, I become a stranger for a while.

    Yes I have been a stranger all my life. And till now I am still a stranger.. Having lived for more than half of my life in formation, in view to the Roman Catholic Priesthood, to be later rusticated and then I am struggling to cope in the world out of Seminary walls.

    Having to accept a new responsibility as a Dad, yet raising my son in a war torn Southern Cameroons with the poverty and hardship and no job.

    Then watching more and more people around me go through same and yet I can’t help.

    I am a stranger for real.

    Happy Sunday Rev. Geitz

  4. I can’t even count the number of times I was a stranger.
    Going in the Navy with so many people I’d never met. When I got out of the Navy was like stepping off a cliff.
    Getting the first civilian job, changing jobs within my company, joining my Submarine Veterans group was a big step.
    In each case I was welcomed by my new work pals. Also in each case I was required to verify my qualifications for the job by have my background checked, having my certificates and licenses reviewed, my marriage license and birth certificate.

    With the immigration/refugee situation, I’m fully supportive of legal entry, appropriate checks. In my own family we had an immigration problem, it took 6 months to get sorted in order to make it legal. My son in law had to go to Mexico to get it done, he wasn’t allowed back in the United States until it was right. (the laws for situation such as his have since been changed that would have allowed him to stay in the US)

    I had a great talk with my daughter who is involved with the Mexican community where she lives. Many of the illegal Mexicans know of their own situation, and realize that they could be deported for many things. They are hard working people and extremely family oriented.
    Unfortunately the path to citizenship or legal entry to the US is not easy, but many people follow the rules and it would seem to be unfair to them to allow illegal immigrants such easy access to the US.

    My little bit of reading about the immigration to the US at Ellis Island has shown that many people were turned back because they didn’t meet the standards for some reason. However, I’m sure many of the immigrants “jumped ship” when they arrived and bypassed Ellis Island.

    My question about children taken from their parents (or whatever adult is bringing them in) when the person illegally crosses the border.
    When a US citizen (single parent) has a child in their car, and that person gets pulled over for DUI and is arrested, what happens to the child?
    Some folks may say my example isn’t the same thing as the US/Mexico border, that’s fine, I think it is very close to, if not the same.

    My bottom line:
    I’m in favor of legal entry into the US.
    The uncontrolled entry of so many people can easily cause an imbalance in our infrastructure.

    My 2 cents for today.
    Now back to getting the house ready to sale for our move.


    • Dear Walker,
      Thank you as always for your 2 cents! It is indeed very difficult for Mexicans and other Central Americans, in particular, to gain legal entry into the US. The entire system needs to be overhauled. What we have allowed to develop is a humanitarian crisis of the first order with unnecessary suffering.

      Jesus wept.

  5. Dear Mr. Dinyuy,
    If my words are of any comfort to you in your present life in Cameroon, where so many are facing severe hardships, I am indeed thankful. Yes, it’s hard when we cannot relieve the suffering of others. It is also difficult to come out of a seminary environment into the secular world.

    God be with you. Aisha.
    Rev. Geitz

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