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Review of Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi Page, eds., No Longer Strangers: Transforming Evangelism with Immigrant Communities

Author: Meredith Thompson
Published: Summer–Fall 2021
In:

MD 12.2

Article Type: Book Review

Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi Page, eds. No Longer Strangers: Transforming Evangelism with Immigrant Communities. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2021. 224 pp. $18.67.

The world is experiencing an unprecedented crisis as over 80 million people are now refugees. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, recently reported that 1 in every 97 people in the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes.1 We are living in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Immigration remains at the forefront of American political discourse and has rightly made its way into church pulpits. Despite the fearmongering and lack of nuance that always seem to infect headlines about immigration, many members of the body of Christ are unable to ignore those that God has brought to our cities; one does not have to travel to another land to encounter the other. No Longer Strangers: Transforming Evangelism with Immigrant Communities, edited by Eugene Cho and Samira Izadi Page, draws on the experiences and practices of eight contributors to offer a framework for evangelism that heals.

No Longer Strangers is primarily for Christians in the United States who are often unaware of the factors that can hinder, disrupt, or harm their Christian witness. American Christians are often well-intentioned in their discipleship and evangelistic efforts to immigrant communities but lack cross-cultural awareness, which can lead to harmful evangelistic practices. In the introduction, editors Cho and Page share their stories and credentials to speak to this subject from their life experiences and as practitioners currently serving refugees. Cho is an immigrant and CEO of Bread for the World, a Christian advocacy group committed to ending hunger. Page is a former refugee and founder of Gateway of Grace, an outreach ministry to refugees. This book seeks to correct misconceptions regarding immigrants, refugees, evangelism, and discipleship; it is honest and acknowledges the imperialist legacy of mission and the harm that it has caused. It is aware of and sensitive to the trauma, oppression, and grief that immigrants and refugees face. No Longer Strangers seeks to forge a better path moving forward, along which immigrants and refugees are honored as image-bearers and full partners in the mission of God.

From the first page of the book, the editors affirm the importance of evangelism, meaning the verbal proclamation of the gospel. They argue that this is a necessary part of discipleship as it fulfills the Great Commission. Although at times redundant, almost every contributor devotes a portion of their chapter to bridging the gap between evangelism and social justice, indicating that this remains a dichotomy for many churches. This book will be a helpful resource for those trying to reconcile the integrated relationship between evangelism and social justice as it brings social, emotional, and economic considerations concerning evangelism in conversation with Scripture. The book contains eight chapters, with testimonies woven between each chapter. The book’s strength lies in its diverse representation. It relies on pastors, theologians, former refugees or immigrants, and licensed counselors to present a framework for holistic evangelism. Although the contributors cover a lot of important ground, No Longer Strangers does not address issues such as contextualization or reflexivity, some basic principles for cross-cultural ministry. For example, the contributors seem to presume that the enculturated, Western gospel typically preached within the United States, will be good news for all people. While it is not possible to address all issues surrounding cross-cultural ministry, what was notably missing was any conversation surrounding honor-shame dynamics. Granted that most refugees come from the Majority World, which is honor-shame oriented, an essay devoted to this topic would be useful for those seeking to share the good news with immigrants or refugees. Not only does an understanding of honor-shame dynamics help us in any verbal proclamation of the gospel, but it also helps us to understand how to interact with immigrants and refugees in ways that are honoring and dignifying. Additionally, we miss out on opportunities for transformation when we assume that our worldview and interpretation of Scripture is the correct way.

Two of the chapters were especially impactful. The first is Issam Smeir’s chapter, “Evangelizing the Hurt and Trauma,” which focuses on evangelism to the traumatized. Many, if not most refugees, experience symptoms of PTSD, and Christians seeking to love and serve their neighbors must be aware of how trauma affects one’s spiritual wellbeing. Dr. Smeir writes about the ways that a relationship with God and a supportive church community can lower the risk of developing PTSD for those who have experienced trauma. However, those who have been traumatized are also at risk of manipulation and coercion. Therefore, we must be all the more cautious in our relationships with those who have experienced trauma. Smeir advocates for an approach to evangelism that is highly relational, transformative, and noncoercive when working with those who have suffered.

The second chapter that stood out was Sandra Maria van Opstal’s “Beyond Welcoming.” She argues for the necessity of moving beyond hospitality to solidarity and mutuality. This chapter was notable for its call to reciprocity, an element often missing within evangelism. Hospitality, although important, can still perpetuate a power dynamic of “you need me” if not approached with the intention of relationship. Evangelism practiced in a relational and transformative way is an invitation into a community, to belong as equals. Solidarity is “the act of being with people in all their joys and needs” (76). Solidarity runs counter to the power dynamics often at work within transactional modes of evangelism. It seeks to listen first and ask what others need rather than assume. Solidarity creates a space for mutuality and reciprocity as we relate to our immigrant and refugee neighbors as friends, not projects. We must learn to embrace the stranger as someone we can learn and receive from, someone with whom we can share life. True love requires mutuality, and the words of Jesus remind us that our ultimate witness comes from our love of one another (John 13:35).

No Longer Strangers is a helpful resource for churches, mission organizations, nonprofits, or individuals who seek to welcome immigrants or refugees. Although the book’s intended audience will more than likely be working in their home cultures, one of the book’s shortcomings is that it does not address important considerations for cross-cultural ministry that, if not addressed, can ultimately cause offense or harm. Although this book is for Christians in the United States, it offers insights for anyone who works with refugees or immigrants. While affirming the importance of the verbal proclamation of the gospel, this book provides guidance and important considerations for those who work in intercultural settings with the world’s most vulnerable.

Meredith Thompson

Graduate Student (MA in Global Services)

Graduate School of Theology

Abilene Christian University

1 UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency, “1% of Humanity Displaced: UNHCR Global Trends Report,” June 18, 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/ua/en/23255-1-of-humanity-displaced-unhcr-global-trends-report.html.

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