I read this article by a chaplain in England that helped me think about an issue I’ve been struggling with because I am both a Christian and a parent. The issue is strangers. How do you talk to your kids about them, and how do you treat them?
As a concerned parent who worries about my young kids, we talk about “stranger danger,” because I don’t want them to get hurt. But as a devoted Christian who wants to do what God wants me to, we remember that the Bible says to welcome strangers because you might be welcoming angels (Heb. 13:2).
Other Bible stories that encourage getting to know strangers are Jacob wrestling the angel (Gen. 32), Abraham welcoming 3 travelers (Gen. 18), Rahab protecting the spies (Joshua 2), the Shumenite woman inviting Elisha in (2 Kings 4), and others. In the Old Testament, God repeatedly told the Israelites to be kind to strangers because they themselves were strangers in Egypt (Ex. 22:21). And in the New Testament, Jesus himself said that when you invite a stranger in, you are actually inviting him! (Matt. 25:34-40)
There’s that, but then there’s all that fear about abuse and abductions, so common wisdom would say that strangers are too risky to trust.
Those are the two opposite extremes the pull me in either direction. One saying, “Avoid strangers at all times”; the other saying, “Welcome strangers at all times.” So what’s a concerned Christian parent to do? That’s where the chaplain’s article was helpful.
How do we, as parents and church, balance this tension between harm and blessing? According to the Bible, the stranger can be a channel of unexpected blessing and an encounter with God, and how we treat him/her is a touchstone of true faith upon which our eternal destiny may hang. How, then, do we teach this to our children in a culture of stranger danger? In our family, we have tried to model welcome to the stranger, but stressing to our children that they only do that with us, never by themselves.
Good advice. When you read the whole article, he gives many sweet examples of the ways God has blessed them when they have been kind to other people who were strangers at first.
I’ve known full well the tension of uncertainty when someone you’ve just run into is telling you their story, and you’re unsure what to do. You know the Bible tells you to help them, but you’re suspicious. You don’t want to get taken advantage of, or worse.
In those situations, the best I can do is go with my instincts, with the hope/prayer that as a Christian, I leave my instincts open to the Holy Spirit’s leading. And sure enough, I’ve had some really neat encounters and conversations with people who were strangers before I met them and heard their story.
In the 4th century, the Roman Emperor Julian did not like Christians. And he especially didn’t like that their message was spreading. He wrote that it was Christians’ “philanthropy towards strangers…that has done the most to spread their religion.” Wow. Makes me wonder if someone could make that accusation about us?
So what can Hickory Rock do to be both responsible but also welcoming to strangers?