World's Littlest ActivistQuick: what’s the first word that you think of when you hear the word “stranger.”   According to, one of the most common associations is “danger.”  I grew up watching public service announcements on children’s television that helped engrain that connotation into my mind.  Strangers were people to be afraid of, to avoid, from whom to run away.   Of course, I am all for educating children to protect them from abduction or abuse.  But my sense is that our fear of strangers goes beyond protecting children: many carry it into adulthood.  To some extent, it’s become a societal value in the United States.  We presume that strangers—those we do not (yet) know—are a potential danger, and thus many perceive immigrants—strangers in any given community, at least when they first arrive—as a threat.  In fact, most white evangelical Christians, polls find, believe that immigrants present a threat to their customs and values: my category of Christian is actually more likely to believe that than Americans as a whole.   It’s a bit ironic that Christians would be uniquely afraid of strangers, both because (a) our Scriptures teach us that we are “foreigners and strangers” on earth, “longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16) and because (b) we are explicitly and repeatedly commanded to welcome and love strangers, which is the precise definition of the word hospitality (in the Greek, philoxenia).   Recently I was re-reading the story of Abram (later Abraham), who was visited by three strangers.  He was incredibly eager to welcome these passers-by: “When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them” (Genesis 18:2), and then he pleads with them to stop, rest, and enjoy some dinner with him, for which he kills a whole cow.  Abram’s eagerness to extend hospitality to strangers might just be what was expected in his culture—I’ve experienced personally the culture of offering a cup of minty tea or strong coffee to visiting strangers that is still a reality in parts of the Middle East—but I like to think that his reaction might have been informed by Abram’s own experience of having been a stranger.  He crossed borders a number of times and experienced both hostile and gracious hosts, so perhaps he was reciprocating the kindness he had received from others to these sojourners.   In any case, Abram welcomed these three strangers, and they turned out to be messengers from God, who informed him that—against all biological possibility for a post-menopausal woman—his wife Sarai would soon give birth to a child.  And she did.  Had Abram responded with fear and hostility to these strangers, rather than eager hospitality, he might have missed out on an incredible blessing: Isaac, the child of God’s promise.  The Bible does not promise that welcoming strangers is always safe.  But it does command us to the practice, with the suggestion that, by doing so, we too might be welcoming angels without realizing it (Hebrews 13:2).   A few years ago, a woman named Marie arrived in our apartment complex from East Africa with three children and a fourth just a few months away from being born.  We met this new family—Marie spoke very little English, though her kids could communicate with us better—and we did our best to be their friends.  We found that they had arrived on tourist visas, but actually were escaping from threats against them in their country; they hoped to apply for asylum and start a new life in the United States.  For the time being, though, they had very little, and no work authorization.  We tried to do what we would have hoped someone would have done for us if the tables were turned: we helped find some furniture from folks at our church.  We helped cover their rent a few times (though they eventually paid us back in full).  We helped the kids adjust to school.  They joined our church, and when two of the kids decided to be baptized, we were standing right beside them, overjoyed by their commitment to following Christ.  My wife was there at the hospital when the new baby was born.  When—after all sorts of prayer and fasting, because the process is complex and risky—they were granted asylum, we helped them get driver’s licenses and Social Security cards.  And, in the process, they became very dear friends.  They weren’t strangers any more.   After more than two years, Marie’s husband was able to come to the U.S. as well; I began to weep at O’Hare Airport as I watched their family reunite, and as Janvier met his youngest daughter for the first time.   A short time later, while over at Marie and Janvier’s for one of many delectable meals, the topic of children came up.  They asked when we planned to have kids, and we shared, somewhat reluctantly, that we had actually been trying to get pregnant for more than a year, and it just wasn’t happening.  We were discouraged and unsure if we would be able to have biological children, though we were also very open to the idea of adoption.  They wanted to pray for us—they do this a lot, more than we do, frankly—and afterwards, Janvier told us that, while he affirmed the beauty of adoption, he also felt that the Lord was telling him that he would provide us a biological child within a year.  We didn’t know quite what to do with that—I’m of a theological tradition that is a bit skeptical of this sort of thing, and we were tired of being disappointed—but we thanked them for their prayers.   A few months later—once more at Janvier and Marie Josee’s for dinner (their sambusas are incredible)—we had the privilege of sharing with them the good news: Diana was pregnant!   I’ll never forget that moment.  As soon as they understood, they started shouting: screaming, really, with their hands in the air as they fell to their knees.  It was not in English, but there were a lot of alleluias and references to Jesu: it was clear they were thanking God for answering their prayers.  They went on to tell us that, for months, they had been rising early every Thursday to pray and fast for us to have a child, demonstrating a level of fervency in prayer for us far beyond our own commitment to prayer for ourselves.  And God had heard their prayer.   Had our baby been a boy, we had decided to name him Isaac Gershom: Isaac, because, like his namesake, he would be a child of promise (Romans 9:8-9), and Gershom—the name that Moses gave to his first son, which means “an alien there” (Exodus 2:22)—because our prayer for him would be that he would embrace citizenship in God’s kingdom above any earthly identity.   This past Wednesday, however, Diana gave birth not to Isaac Gershom but to a little girl: eight pounds, fifteen ounces, twenty-two inches long.  We’ve named her Zipporah Emmanuelle.  Zipporah was Moses’ wife and Gershom’s mom in the Scripture (plus, we think Zip is a really cute nickname), and Emmanuelle (“God is with us”) because we want her to have a constant reminder of God’s presence with her.  We’re excited for her to meet Marie and Janvier and their family, people who arrived in our country as strangers but became our neighbors, who have become dear friends and spiritual family to us, and whose fervent prayers may have brought our precious little girl into existence.   I hope that next time you hear the word “stranger,” or the word “immigrant,” you’ll think not of a threat or of a political problem, but of someone who might just be a divine blessing.  (And, by the way, I’ve asked Marie and Janvier to pray for immigration reform to pass soon… so I’m pretty sure that’s on its way, too).  
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief.  His blogs appear here on Mondays.   Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92, or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.   We’re always looking for new guest bloggers; please check out our Guest Blog Submission Guidelines if you’re interested. 

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8 Responses to Child of Promise: Zipporah

  1. John Lamb says:

    What a beautiful post, Matthew. The Lord is speaking through you.

  2. Jen Mendoza says:

    Just beautiful Matthew. I’m so happy for you and your wife. Welcome baby Zipporah Emmanuelle!

  3. love this story and scripture-rich blog, Matthew… and so thankful for little “Zip”

    Enjoy these new dad days!

  4. This brought tears to my eyes. Beautiful baby girl. Beautiful story. Beautiful illustration. And… I’m impressed that you wrote this within 2 days of a baby being born. 🙂

  5. Marti Devadatta says:

    This brought tears to my eyes, too. All of us stodgy prayer wimps need to read stories like this! If that’s not a clear answer, I don’t know what is.

  6. […] Bonus! Take a minute to read more about where her name came from on her father Matt’s blog here. […]

  7. Zipporah says:

    Thank God for bby Zipporah, lm zipporah too, yo bby is a fighter and winner, we zipporahs defeat is one word we dont use, shower her wth loads of love and attention, may our good Lord bless yu little zip,.

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