“Once We Were Strangers” by Shawn Smucker


“In 2012, Mohammad fled his Syrian village along with his wife and four sons, escaping to Jordan through the wilderness. Four years later he sat across from Shawn Smucker in a small conference room in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Though neither of them knew it, Mohammad had arrived in Shawn’s life just in time.

This is the story of a friendship. It is the story of a middle-aged writer struggling to make a living and a Syrian refugee struggling to create a life for his family in a strange and sometimes hostile land. It’s the story of two fathers hoping for the best, two hearts seeking compassion, two lives changed forever. It’s the story of our moment in history and the opportunities it gives us to show love and hospitality to the sojourner in our midst.

Anyone who has felt torn between the desire for security and the desire to offer sanctuary to those fleeing war and violence will find Shawn Smucker a careful and loving guide on the road to mercy and unity.”

When I saw the title and subtitle of this book I was immediately intrigued! I’m very familiar with the refugee situation in the Middle East in general and Syria in particular so I knew I wanted to read this.

I guess I’ll start with the negatives and finish with the positives.

First of all, about 75% of it was written from a first person, present point of view. Secondly, it was mostly just telling and not showing. Very similar to diary style, where he said, “We do this, and then so-and-so happens” etc. There is a split timeline, switching back and forth between telling about how the family left Syria, and the present day and how their friendship develops.

So all that the say, the actual writing quality doesn’t have much to recommend it.

Also, I’m not sure where the author stands spiritually. It doesn’t really have any kind of a clear Christian message, and almost sounds like whether your Christian or Muslim doesn’t really matter, it’s just all part of one’s culture.

The reasons I did enjoy it were because, in the first place, so much of Shawn’s relationship with Mohammad mirrored relationships we have built with Middle Easterners. I found myself laughing and nodding my head because much of it was so familiar.

Secondarily, the overall message that Shawn Smucker was putting across is a good and, I would say, needful one for many in our country: that of befriending and giving of ourselves and our time to the immigrants in our country. I would add to that, that we should use these opportunities that we’re given to build relationships, so that we may give the gospel to those in need.

I’m giving this 3 out of 5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary paperback of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review.

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