In "The Stranger at Our Shore," Joshua Sherif challenges the church to embrace immigrants and refugees

Friday, May 24, 2024

Site Search
Give

Biblical living

In “The Stranger at Our Shore,” Joshua Sherif challenges the church to embrace immigrants and refugees

June 7, 2022 -

© flowertiare/stock.adobe.com

© flowertiare/stock.adobe.com

© flowertiare/stock.adobe.com

“If anyone thinks they have reason to be afraid of Muslims, I likely have more.”

So Joshua Sherif begins his timely, winsome, and challenging book, The Stranger at Our Shore. He goes on to say, “I would be far within my rights to make this book into a story about the evils of Islam. It isn’t that kind of book, just so you know.”

Rather, it’s the story of Sherif’s childhood flight from Egypt, his journey to Jesus, and what he has learned—and wants us to learn—about loving diverse people as a pastor in a multi-ethnic Chicago neighborhood.

In Part 1 of the book, he shares his unlikely journey from Muslim child in Egypt to Christian pastor in the US. In Part 2, he identifies three problems the church faces relative to immigrants, then rounds out Part 3 with action steps that serve as solutions to those problems. (To read an excerpt, see “God sends people from everywhere to everywhere.”)

A perilous journey

Growing up in Giza, Egypt, Sherif wanted to be an imam, a Muslim spiritual leader. He welcomed his father’s recommitment to Islam after a heart attack and relished the nightly Quran readings.

What he didn’t know and couldn’t even imagine was that his mother was secretly a Christian.

She had come to Christ after reading the Bible to discount her recently converted mother’s faith. Sherif’s grandma left Egypt for America and would often ask her daughter and family to join her.

After one invitation, to the amazement of all, Sherif’s father agreed.

Since his assent was necessary by Egyptian law for the mom and child to leave, Sherif’s grandmother immediately bought tickets, before he changed his mind! As the plane lifted off, Sherif’s mom took off her hijab.

He was stunned, saying, “Mom, what are you doing!? You’re going to go to hell!”

She replied, “No. I just got out.”

When Sherif’s mom refused to return to Egypt, his father threatened to kidnap the kids. The following years were filled with court cases and a life on the run that eventually led the family to the Midwest.

It was there at age eleven that Sherif discovered, “As a Muslim, I believed I was pursuing God. But the idea that God was pursuing me—that God loved me, that God was a Savior and a Father, who wanted to have real relationship with me—this was a completely new idea to my mind.” It resulted in “a real sense, for the very first time in my life, that through the work of Jesus, this God was truly pleased with me.”

Sherif goes on to tell how his childhood dream to be an imam found life as he became a pastor. Looking honestly at the riskiness of a former Muslim reaching out with Jesus to Muslims, Sherif challenges us to face our fears and engage others in spite of them:

My security is an eternal security. My ultimate safety is in God’s will—He holds my entire life in the palm of His hand. My homeland is in heaven. My allegiance is to the kingdom. And my peace and my hope for this world are in Christ Jesus. If you’re a Christian, this is good news! Within the current climate of fear, in the midst of the clash of cultural values of all kinds, even in the face of certain death . . . YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE AFRAID. Though the whole world has grown more fearful in recent years, especially of threats posed by Islam, the church is still called to live fearlessly. Fear is a transient emotion felt by every single human being—and yet, ultimately, fear should have no foothold in the life of a Christian.

Sherif knows both fear and Jesus.

His words challenge me.

Facing our heart problems

He continues his challenge in the middle act of The Stranger at Our Shore, calling out “heart problems” of the broader church that limit our desire and ability to connect with immigrants.

With a pastor’s heart and extensive biblical backing, Sherif offers hope for our inadequacy. He agrees with our sense of weakness but assures us God is pleased to use such weak, sick, and unlikely servants.

Like a prophet, he calls out our ignorance and indignation. He asks, “Who is informing your view of immigrants and people of other faiths? Is it Jesus? Is it your immigrant friends? Or is it the news, a website, or a TV show?”

To be sure the arrow finds our hearts, he continues, “If you find yourself with strong feelings against a certain people group—and you don’t have a single friend from that people group—then consider the source of your information.”

Ouch.

And thank you.

With the story of Jonah as a guide, Sherif asks us to consider if we carry a sense of superiority toward immigrants, to wonder if self-righteousness might cause us to alienate those God calls us to love.

Extending patience

If you’re inclined to read this review and Sherif’s book, it may be because you carry a passion for immigrants and would like to bring your church friends along with you. I’m your biggest cheerleader in that, but you and I both need to consider Sherif’s warning:

Sometimes . . . we fail to extend patience to those who are still in the dark (about the truth we only learned ourselves two seconds ago). We start to redirect our indignation rather than remove it. Perhaps you were one who used to feel indignation toward immigrants, but now you are indignant with the people who used to be just like you! When you attempt to bring other people on this journey with you, just know that progress may be slow. Discernment and patience are your friends.

Sherif wraps up the book with a call to take hard steps in love, prayer, and blessing.

In calling us to love newcomers, he contrasts a “scenario where an immigrant or refugee comes to America and is loved, accepted, and cared for by the church (like I was). And a scenario where they are not. You might think this makes no difference. It might even feel trivial to welcome a foreigner. But to me, it meant everything.”

He calls us to deepen our practice of and dependence on prayer: “When we prioritize prayer, we are surrendering our control and submitting ourselves to going on the adventure God has for us.”

Getting in the mess

Finally, Sherif invites us into the discomfort of using our resources (our time, energy, skills, money, things, passions, and gifts) to “get in the mess” of blessing newcomers and others who don’t fit the normal mold of our fellow church people.

He says, “We often like to hear the stories of brave missionaries and martyrs of the faith, but we don’t want to be one of these stories.” In reality, though, “Suffering is a first choice, not a last resort.”

Joshua Sherif is a practitioner. He’s writing from the middle of the mess. He has the authority to invite believers to sacrifice for the sake of strangers and immigrants both because he’s been one and because he’s sacrificed more than most.

I deeply appreciate his practical guidance and challenge, his blessings and cautions. I loved The Stranger at Our Shore and believe you will too.

I needed to hear Sherif’s message and believe many in the American church today do so as well.

What did you think of this article?

If what you’ve just read inspired, challenged, or encouraged you today, or if you have further questions or general feedback, please share your thoughts with us.

Name(Required)
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Denison Forum
17304 Preston Rd, Suite 1060
Dallas, TX 75252-5618
[email protected]
214-705-3710


To donate by check, mail to:

Denison Ministries
PO Box 226903
Dallas, TX 75222-6903