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The Power of Friendship and Social Justice

June 22-23, 2020 a group of pastors, missionaries, staff, lay leaders and invited guests from the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America met for a Journeys Into Friendship virtual consultation. During these two days together, we heard stories from those who have built intentional, authentic friendships with people in their communities. Friendships that bridge differences in race, religion and migration status. Friendships that have been a mutual blessing to both parties and a faithful response to following Christ. The original plan was to host this year’s consultation in the Chicago, IL area, so we heard stories of friendship both from a global and a Chicago-area context. Yes, it was inspiring. Yes, it was challenging. Participating in this network also gives me an opportunity to continuously learn about the biblical concept of friendship, especially as it relates to global migration, and how true friendship compels us do the work of social justice.

I learned that the concept of hospitality centers around loving the stranger.

Philos (phileo/philia) is one of the types of love we see repeatedly mentioned in the New Testament. Often interpreted as brotherly love, it also means a deep, abiding friendship. For many years I understood philos to define the type of love we, as Christ followers, are to have for those we consider to be siblings in the faith. It’s what I was taught. As my studies of the scripture—and my faith—grew, particularly as I turned to the Bible to discern what it says about migration and how we should interact with those who migrate, I learned that the concept of hospitality centers around loving the stranger, the foreigner and the sojourner. 

OK, there are two concepts. 

The first one, xenodocheo, means to entertain or host the foreigner (ex. 1 Timothy 5:10). This is the type of relationship I see more often in response to caring for those who migrate (whether that migration is voluntary or forced), where there is a host who provides care and services to a foreign guest.

Philoxenia makes it much more difficult to stay silent

The other, philoxenia, means to love (philos) the stranger (xenos) (ex. Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13:2). We also see this concept appear as a noun, philoxenon, in several New Testament passages (ex. 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:9). Here we see the Bible describing hospitality as a deep friendship with the foreigner. Philoxenia changes the dynamics in the relationship from host and guest to mutual friends. Yes, one can practice xenodocheo hospitality and seek justice, as a host, for one’s guest. However, for many of us, philoxenia (friendship love of the stranger) makes it much more difficult to stay silent and not seek justice for our friends. 

Philoxenia doesn’t allow us to treat our friends as projects or political statements that we agree or disagree with. It doesn’t demand gratitude for services rendered. It invites us to acknowledge the power and privilege differences amongst friends, strive to understand their suffering and join with them in alleviating that suffering, including changing systemic beliefs, structures and practices that cause suffering. 

Philoxenia means we don’t turn a blind eye when our friend is:

  • an international student whose visa has been revoked and is required to return home immediately;

  • an immigrant working in a meat packing plant where hundreds of employees have become infected with COVID-19, but must show up for work every day or lose their job;

  • an asylum-seeker whose child was removed from their care and placed in detention;

  • a refugee who came to our country seeking freedom from persecution, only to lose their life due to racism or xenophobia;

  • a DACA recipient who is sent to a country they don’t remember, where they don’t speak the language or have a support system after proving that they have been positively contributing to the country they call home;

  • or a former refugee who has been waiting for years to be reunited with their spouse and children, but a travel ban has stopped that process indefinitely.

I have been blessed to hear story after story of people who were once diehard anti-immigration, who didn’t believe in advocacy and social justice because they felt “too political” change their hearts, change their minds and become active justice seekers when these concepts went from being theoretical debate topics to practical steps required as acts of biblical love for a friend. This is the power of friendship; this is the power of philoxenia. 

What's Next?

Interested in joining the Journeys Into Friendship Network? Contact Greg Sinclair, Diaspora Ministry Leader/Salaam 2.0, Resonate Global Mission.

Do you have a story of friendship with the stranger, the foreigner, or the sojourner you’d like to share? I invite you to submit a story for the storytelling project This is My Story: Migrant and Refugee Stories. Stories can be posted anonymously if needed due to safety and confidentiality. 

And check out the stories being released on the brand new Do Justice Podcast!  

Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

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