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Greater Love

By February 2, 2017 22 Comments

by Kate Kooyman

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:13-14)

Today, a child who was born a refugee taught my son to tie his shoes.

My seven-year old has a lazy mom (hello, velcro) and a lot of interest in what’s happening in our country right now. It might be because he’s been shoving aside protest signs each time he crawls into his booster seat, or because he’s been logging extra hours on Minecraft because of all my recent conference calls. He overhears me asking questions about the next expected Executive Order, strategizing about ways to respond to yet another immigrant life devastated by our President’s onslaught of promises-turned-policies.

I spend my days watching Facebook like it’s a car accident. I can’t stand to watch, and I can’t stand to look away. I feel victimized by the ignorance, by the belligerence, by the heartlessness of Christians. I feel like we are in crisis. I am stunned that this view is not commonplace.

I got a phone call from an angry church member last week. She was put off by the partisanship she perceived in an email that my office had sent denouncing the Executive Order; she did not agree that we should encourage Christian advocates to demand that Congress move to save refugee resettlement. She did not believe that refugees were vetted well. She did not think they even wanted to come to a country so different from their own — that it was perhaps unfair to force them to do so. She certainly did not think it was OK for her safety to be sacrificed because of another country’s inability to keep its people safe. I took a deep breath, and I asked her, “Have you ever met a refugee from the Middle East?” She insisted that she had. But she couldn’t remember their name, nor their country of origin, and I gather hadn’t considered running these views by that first-hand source. I confess, I wasn’t my best self with her. This is a normal part of my job, and these last few weeks have knocked me off-kilter. I don’t have instincts for this new standard of suffering met with this level of heartless ignorance from the church.

When I got home from work that day, I made my kid a snack. “I’m glad he moved here before President Trump was elected,” my son said about his friend, who also likes to play checkers. Who has a funny, high-pitched laugh when he’s joking with his brothers in their native language on the playground. My son isn’t sure yet exactly what it is that makes his friend laugh, but he’s pretty sure he’ll figure it out soon. His friend’s getting better at English every day.

My kid has met a refugee. Has helped and been helped by a refugee. Sees a refugee as a human — three-dimensional, complex, interesting, shoe-tying. My kid doesn’t consider his friend as someone to be saved or someone to be feared. My kid doesn’t care about the “issue of refugees.” My kid has a friend who is a refugee.

And maybe that’s significant. It seems crazy to my son that anyone — especially the President — would work to do anything except welcome his friend. It makes no sense to him that there are people who would object that our tax dollars pay for his own education as well as his friend’s. My son would find it shocking to hear someone insist that his friend’s life is less precious than his own.

Christians: if you do not know a refugee, I beg you. Clarify your facts before you harden your heart and congratulate your President. Learn the stories of those who have been barred entry. Find out what is really going to happen to those who were in the pipeline to come, whose clearances will expire, whose spots in camps have been filled, whose prayers seemed answered and are once again left hopeless. Ask the social worker who spent her day making phone call after devastating phone call to inform parents that they would not, after all, see their child again after a decade apart. Pray for the person who has a life-threatening medical condition for whom a 120-day hold is a death sentence.

Consider how your opinions might sound if they were voiced to a seven-year old — one who believes that you’re talking about real people. One who believes you’re talking about his friend.

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


  • Jan Koopman says:

    Thank you Kate……we have to keep believing that Christians will see, understand and act to reverse the insanity of the past 12 days since the inauguration.

  • June Huissen says:

    Thank you for your eloquent post. My heart is heavy when I realize how different my Christian brothers and sisters view this issue.

  • Grace Shearer says:

    Thanks again, Kate, for bringing this message home. Blessed ng son your work.

  • Deb Byl says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It hit me so hard I sobbed after reading it. “I spend my days watching Facebook like it’s a car accident. I can’t stand to watch, and I can’t stand to look away. I feel victimized by the ignorance, by the belligerence, by the heartlessness of Christians. I feel like we are in crisis. I am stunned that this view is not commonplace.” You are not alone.

  • jgeertsma says:

    The damage done to these refugee families is inexcusable. Hopefully, we can recover when the ban is lifted. However, the damage to the Church of Jesus Christ may be something we never recover from easily. Many are watching how the “church” is handling this situation.

  • William Botts says:

    Wonderful post and perspective. Thanks so much.

  • Janet Armfield says:

    Thank you, Kate, for this beautiful, relevant article. Up to last August, Steve and I spent eighteen months in Stockholm, Sweden. Wow, what a difference in attitude to refuges. The church that we were a part of (Swedish Covenant) helped house, feed, clothe people fleeing countries like Syria and Iraq–but it was more than this. The Swedish government encouraged and supported efforts like this and helped financially with the costs of many of these kind of programs. What Trump is doing goes against everything our faith stands for and so much more. I was so heartbroken and dismayed on Nov 8th, but now I’m angry! As Hillary pit it, “This is not who we are.”

  • Beth Jammal says:

    I respect you as a Christian and a writer. I would like to though, offer you a different perspective.

    I have been married for 41 years to a middle eastern Muslim. I am Christian. Over the years there have been many challenges, practically and ideologically. We have a large array of middleastern friends, both Muslim and Christian. Some who were refugees, some who were legal immigrants.

    Before that, I grew up with various Chilean refugees living in our home. They were escaping the murder and violence of the Socialist party in the 70s. Numerous relatives of the people living with us were either murdered or disappeared, and I loved the fact that my family was able to help them at great personal cost and challenge. There were no agencies to help with resettlement back then. I point this out so you understand that I am neither ignorant nor heartless.

    God did not create all Christians out of the same mold. For some, compassion is a top priority, for others, law and order. These are both a part of who God is. He gave us these differences to complement eachother. Ideally, we all have a perfect balance of these qualities, but of course, our inherent sin took care of that. We also know that God’s love triumphs over all, but that doesn’t negate responsibility. Some of these “ignorant, heartless, belligerent” Christians are concerned that the compassion of some, will harm the “family” that it is president Trump’s responsibility to care for. I personally, know many compassionate, loving, informed people who voted for our President. One does not necessarily cancel the other out. To believe that it does, creates divisions that are not necessary and against God’s will for us. I believe He wants us to love and understand eachother as best we can. We don’t have to choose to love either the refugees or people who are concerned about the practical issues of resettlement, we can do both.

    My prayer is that people would listen to eachother’s hearts. Stop with the derogatory judgements and love people with different opinions, as much as we do those who we agree with.

  • Thomas Goodhart says:

    Thank you, Kate. Keep on advocating. Keep on instilling the values of faith and love and compassion in your child. And sharing that same message with the church.

  • lisa Tice says:

    Kate, thank you for your beautiful words. I know many people who have come to this country seeking a better life. My heart aches for the refugees. Hopefully, this will only be a temporary situation and we can resettle all those who were expected to arrive.

  • My message goes here: says:

    Get off of Facebook, everyone, and realize how the world works! Feelings don’t govern or make the world’s tough decisions.
    You couldn’t wait but a day to publish a congregant’s conversation?!
    YOU are the one who needs to “consider” YOUR OWN “ignorance, belligerence, heartlessness”.

    It’s not very Christian to go against your government! I remember being taught to obey NO MATTER WHAT–GOD WILL JUDGE.

  • gordon says:

    Great message Kate. People who use FB for political satisfaction lose all sense of humanity. We are hear to help each other. I just spent four hours helping families who our church supports. They know we are Christians by our love and feel so thankful for any way we are able to help. Willful ignorance is prevalent among those who agree with the President. Get to know a refugee before you make a FB comment. I mean really get to know them!

  • Lauren Forsythe says:

    Thank you Kate! This one left me teary for sure. Love your heart and your work. Grateful for you! Protesting with you.

    • My message goes here: says:

      “Protesting with you.”
      Really? Is that what Reformed church members are up to now? PROTESTING? Wow, how the mighty have fallen. Not what I was taught growing up!

  • C.J. says:

    Yes, God WILL judge!! He will judge “what you have done for the least of these”! And whether it was done out of love or left undone out of fear!

    • My message goes here: says:

      “God will judge” ***the rulers He has chosen to lead us – He will judge THEM for their actions whether their actions are harmful or not*** . So yeah, “let go and let God”. The people have spoken. Quit rebelling!

      • Gordon says:

        To “Quit Rebelling ” I believe that injustice rebelling Is the God within us refusing to accept inhuman treatment. Our refusal is God speaking to the world. ” keep rebelling”

        • My message goes here: says:

          I’m so glad I’m no longer part of these leftist churches. “keep rebelling”–sure, tell that to children who know what the Bible commands of them. A hypocrite. You have left the Reformed faith—please remove it from your collective names.

  • Elisa says:

    Thank you, Kate for writing such a beautiful inspiring piece! You and your seven year old make me feel so blessed!!!

  • Karen says:

    Thank you Kate..I appreciate your heart and words!

  • Kathy says:

    Thank you Kate. You made me cry. Good crying.

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