Cindy M. Wu, A Better Country: Embracing the Refugees in Our Midst (William Carey Library, 2017), 82 pages, $12. Reviewed by Cara Meredith in The Covenant Quarterly

I knew my heart had changed when an airplane conversation ignited every fiery bone in my body. The two men behind me had been chatting for a while, and try as I might to ignore their banter, the task proved rather difficult without any earbuds on my part and lack of decibel awareness on theirs. But when they began talking about America’s refugee crisis, it took everything within me not to interrupt with a thought or two of my own.

“Why would you let someone into this country with no assets and no education? Why would you let them take away our jobs?” The older of the two finished his soliloquy with a flourish of his hands, just as I sneaked a peak at him and shook my head in disgust. I may not have been Spirit-filled in that moment, but just as I knew our humanity made us more alike than different, I also recognized their deep-seated fear of not knowing. Less than a week before, I’d finished working my way through Cindy M. Wu’s, A Better Country: Embracing the Refugees in Our Midst, and, as the adage goes, when we know better, we do better. While my beliefs on displaced peoples hadn’t changed all that much from reading her book, my desire to act on those beliefs had changed—thus fulfilling Wu’s hope for the short resource.

Formatted for small group discussion over the course of six brief chapters (or weeks), Wu equips the reader with facts, grounding the argument in the Bible while ultimately empowering the individual to go out and do something about the “more than 34,000 people [displaced] every day, or 12.4 million newly displaced people in 2015 alone” (p. xiii). Readers will learn distinctions between an asylum seeker, an asylee, and an internally displaced person (IDP) while gaining an understanding about the role of the United Nations. In true workbook fashion, Wu is both a teacher and a guide who encourages the reader to reflect on and respond to newly filtered information.

By the time the group—or in my case, the individual—gets to the third chapter, the reader is well equipped with the facts of the problem at hand. Here Wu challenges the reader to think biblically about how God looks at the stranger, based on the premise of 1 Chronicles 29:15, “For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding” (ESV).

By building an argument on the Hebrew word for “stranger,” ger, Wu explains how various Bible translations render the word as “alien,” “foreigner,” “guest,” or “sojourner,” providing readers with precedents deeply rooted in the history and theology of Judaism (p. 21). Because this command to care for the least among us is the heart of God, and therefore of his son, this too can—and should—be our heart toward the strangers in our midst.

By the time the reader arrives at the final two chapters, a rumbling of empowerment comes alive in the pages of Wu’s book. As American Christians we are to go and do, building on our country’s foundation and following in the ways Christ teaches us to interact with and care for all of our brothers and sisters. “Today,” she states, “the ends of the earth are coming to America, and you have the opportunity to show God’s love to them, without leaving your home. What is your vision for making the most of that opportunity?” (p. 40). Perhaps my favorite part of the book, Wu then equips the reader with eighteen practical ideas for caring for refugees in our midst. Whether we prepare a warm meal and invite a new family into our home or watch a handful of documentaries to better understand the plight of refugees, it is not impossible to care for others out of who we already are and what we are already doing, no matter our situation.
I may not have responded verbally to the passengers on the flight that day, but this I do know: if my heart for refugees has been changed by the guidance of one woman’s words, I don’t doubt entire faith communities can and will be changed as well.