Strangers can come in varied forms.
They can be people from our own country who were previously unknown to us, or even not remotely like us in the first place. If they could be called foreigners, they might be people who have come to live among us indefinitely, or alternatively they have come for a given period of time (like international students).
Whatever categories we may make for strangers (including visitors, tourists, visiting sailors, immigrants and asylum seekers), the New Testament teaches us to receive and show hospitality to them (Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2).
The action of showing a welcome to strangers is, therefore, not an optional extra to be given just to Christians who are especially inclined, gifted or ‘called’ by God to do it. It is a mainline Christian activity.
When Jesus described the good behaviours of a true disciple He said, “I was a stranger and you invited me into your home … When you were doing it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:35,40).
The giving of hospitality to strangers is included by Jesus in that passage in Matthew along with other discipleship behaviours such as feeding the hungry, clothing those who need it, caring for the sick and visiting those in prison. Those who refuse to do such things cannot expect to be recognisable as coming from His sheep at all (Matthew 25:31–46).
A happy outworking of our welcoming task given by God is that Christians in a community should be among the first people that a stranger meets. In reality, the situation can be rather patchy, depending on how well we have taken notice of the strangers among us who are in need of our welcome, hospitality and friendship.
Whole groups of strangers around us can get missed out, such as English-speaking people from Commonwealth countries, international staff working in our local hospitals, varied local immigrants and even the unknown people living down our road.
Grace can be somewhat taken for granted in churches where the word is often used. Grace reflects God’s free and unmerited favour toward us. It is so completely free that it has to be given away as well as maintained personally.
The word ‘lockdown’ has so often been used in the past two years that this seems a good time to do exactly the opposite and find fresh ways to unlock our doors to strangers within and beyond our own local community.
The Government is reviewing its legislation in its Nationality and Borders Bill, looking at its provision about nationality, asylum and immigration. The Bill has the potential to make it more difficult for Christians to support foreigners in need, so the coming season gives us an added opportunity not only to contribute fresh thinking on this but also to provide worked cases of what Christian love in action to strangers actually looks like.
More on the wider subject of welcoming refugees, or being welcomed, can be found on the website of ‘Welcome Churches’, an organisation founded recently by Krish Kandiah and others.