By Josh Seligman
Often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise
From a Celtic prayer of hospitality
A few years ago, I worked at a night shelter, where a team of volunteers would support destitute asylum seekers and refugees by hosting them in our church building overnight. This was in partnership with the Manchester-based charity Boaz Trust.
Our purpose was simple: to serve our visitors’ practical needs by providing food, a warm shower and a safe place to sleep. But they were not content to passively receive our help; many of them would ask us to join them at the table to eat with them. They wanted to learn about us and to be known and recognised as fellow people with names, stories and histories.
Once, over supper, one man grabbed a jar of tahini dressing and held it up, saying almost through tears, ‘Ever since I came to the UK a few years ago, I have not eaten tahini. Eating this now brings me right back to my family.’
He was from Saudi Arabia, and I remember him most for his keen sense of humour despite his tragic circumstances. When he found out that I was married but that we didn’t have children yet, he commanded me to name our first son after him.
Most of the men were Muslims, and we got used to their dietary requirements for halal meat. One man from northern Africa, however, was unusual: for several weeks he didn’t eat meat, dairy or eggs, nor did he eat anything before 3 p.m. He explained he was an Orthodox Christian and was fasting to observe of the season of Advent, a practice I hadn’t heard of before. Through meeting the men, I learned not only about other faiths, but also more about my own Christian faith.
It was humbling to encounter these men who, every day, relied upon the care of others. Often while returning home from the night shelter, I would feel a mixture of things – a sense of unfairness, but also that my own humanity had somehow been deepened through my interactions with them.
Jesus says that whenever we welcome a stranger, we welcome Jesus himself (Matthew 25:34–40). Although we didn’t recognise it at the time, I believe that in meeting and serving our guests, we were spending time with Christ. The men often thanked us and praised God for the food, shelter and friendship we offered, but I too must give thanks and praise to God for the blessings I have received from them.
Josh Seligman is the founding editor of Foreshadow and co-host of its podcast, Forecast.
'Meeting Christ over Tahini' was published in Refugees from Eden (Wild Goose Publications, 2021). It has been republished here with the author's permission.
To learn more about how to support refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, visit the Boaz Trust website.