Defining the ‘other’

October 21, 2015 | Viewpoints | Volume 19 Issue 21
Willard Metzger |

Early in the Syrian refugee crisis, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) asked me to be part of a delegation meeting with Chris Alexander, minister of immigration. We indicated that the church was ready to do what it could to respond to the crisis. But as the crisis continued to unfold and governments struggle to know what to do, I pondered further.

By articulating the “other,” we identify the traits and characteristics of those who do belong and give them an identity. Left unattended and unchallenged, these general attitudes can grow into specific expressions of racism and bigotry, expressions inconsistent with Christian values.

Jesus challenged the common definitions of the “other” by regularly welcoming Samaritans. He purposefully elevated the status of women and children. He refused the rejection of lepers. To follow the example of Jesus is to radically erase the definition of the “other.” Cultures are recognized as different expressions of the human experience. Borders are recognized as merely geographic identifiers. We are a diverse expression of people under the grace and love of a common Creator. In this, we are a global family.

So a global refugee crisis like that facing us now is an opportunity for all humanity to reflect on our capacity to welcome one another.

To only open our borders to people who seem most like us is to deny our commonality. We are all created in the image of God. We are all filled with the capacity to love. We all long for safety and well-being for ourselves and our families.

The Christian church seeks to reflect the attitude of Jesus. In our Mennonite Church Canada family of congregations, this is expressed by our ecumenical memberships in the EFC and the Canadian Council of Churches. In both these relationships we commend Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) as the response platform that helps our congregations become places of welcome for Syrian refugees.

But let us not leave responses only to church organizations. This crisis is also an opportunity for each of us to help erase the definition of the “other.” Some simple suggestions include:

  • Inviting someone new to share a meal.
  • Trying a different ethnic meal.
  • Watching a movie with subtitles.
  • Listening to non-English music.
  • Reading books from non-western authors.
  • Accessing study material from
  • Inviting a Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker/staffer to share understandings and insights from their experiences.

While these steps may appear simplistic, they will help strengthen the capacity to appreciate differences. This, in turn, will help broaden an understanding of God. Then as a part of our human family requires a safe haven, our doors will naturally swing open in welcome and embrace.

Willard Metzger is executive director of Mennonite Church Canada.

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