Wednesday, October 17, 2018

“Once We Were Strangers” by Shawn Smucker

Working for a large company had its benefits and disadvantages. Pay and benefits were good; office politics wasn’t. But office politics exists no matter how large the employer is.

There was another benefit. Because the company had operations all over the world, it had employees and customers all over the world. And the company actively transferred employees to and from the United States. On a face-to-face basis, I worked regularly with employees from India, Britain, France, Belgium, Pakistan, China, Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, Israel, and several other countries. 

Because my job involved social media, which is global, I worked virtually with employees from those countries and others from Japan, Argentina, Chile, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Vietnam, Germany, Russia, and more. I might have been physically located in St. Louis, but my work was all over the world. I was exposed to cultures, people, religions, values, and experiences that many Americans are not. And it’s an interesting set of experiences to have when considering the question of immigration (illegal and legal) and refugees.

Shawn Smucker has a perspective as well, and he shares it in Once We Were Strangers: What a Syrian Refugee Taught Me about Loving My Neighbor. Smucker and his family befriended a refugee family from Syria when it arrived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Working through a church mission organization, Smucker made a conscious decision to befriend a man named Mohammad, along with his wife and four sons. And then he made a decision to help tell this family’s story.

Shawn Smucker's friend Mohammad
Alternating between the chaos of war in Syria and how the friendship developed, what enfolds is two stories. One is Mohammad’s story – fleeing the destruction of war, getting to a refugee camp in Jordan, finding a way out of the refugee camp, and then finding a way to a new life in another country. Mohammad and his family were not set on living in the United States; any western country – any place where a family could be raised in safety – would have worked. But they found themselves in Lancaster, and Mohammad found himself befriended by a writer and part-time Uber-Lyft driver.

Shawn Smucker
Equally important, Smucker found himself befriended by a man with a different religion, a different history, and starting his life all over again in a country where he didn’t speak the language and didn’t have any job prospects. All he knew was that his family was safe. And what is there in story after story, page after page, is a man with a very different perspective on life. When your dining room has been shelled, and you’ve had to flee with your wife and children across the desert, you have a much more tolerant view of what we call “first world problems.”

It’s a moving, instructive, and inspiring story.

In addition to the novels The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There, Smucker has published three non-fiction works – My Amish RootsBuilding a Life Out of Words, and Refuse to Drown. He and his family live in Lancaster.

No one argues for unrestricted immigration, and that’s not the story Smucker is telling in Once We Were Strangers. The story he is telling, and it’s a compelling one, is how we can be welcoming to the strangers among us, how we can see them as our neighbors, and how we will receive unexpected blessings in return.


Top photograph by Tobias Mrzyk via Unsplash. Used with permission.

1 comment:

Maureen said...

I think I experienced something of which Smucker writes, having worked not so long ago with an Iraqi family who arrived at Dulles Airport with nothing more than a suitcase for each of them (their vetting by the U.S. took two years - in the middle of war!). I will never forget the youngest child's question of his father: "Is Iraq my home, or is America?" His father wisely replied, "Both are." They love this country now their own.