By Mark Worthing
In 2013 the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) adopted and released a statement titled ‘Welcoming the Stranger’ and challenged Lutherans around the world to consider their mission and ministry in light of this profound biblical principle.
At the fourth Australian Conference on Lutheran Education (ACLE 4), held in Brisbane in September 2013, about 1000 Australian Lutheran educators were challenged by LWF president, Bishop Munib Younan, to think about what it means to welcome the stranger.
The LWF statement Bishop Younan introduced begins by asking us to make a personal pledge: ‘A core value of my faith is to welcome the stranger, the refugee, the internally displaced, the other. I shall treat him or her as I would like to be treated. I will challenge others … to do the same.’ But who really is ‘the stranger’?
In May 2006 I was in Iran, to speak at a conference on religion and medicine at Tehran University. I arrived early, so decided to head into the old city and check out its famed bookstores and food stalls. In my enthusiasm, I failed to note the name of the hotel at which I was staying or even the name of the suburb in which it was located. By about 10.00 pm I was getting cold and I realised I was hopelessly lost in this very foreign city of 14 million Farsi speakers. With my blue eyes, pale skin, brown hair (yes, it was once brown!) and Western dress, I stood out as being out of place. After many acts of hospitality by ‘strangers’ who spoke a little English, or German, or French, I finally arrived back at my hotel in the early hours of the morning. I will never forget the dozens of Iranians willing to help the stranger among them that chilly May night.
That incident gave me a new perspective on the concept of the stranger. I had always assumed the stranger was someone else, someone who needed my help. As the LWF statement reminds us, ‘we are all considered