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Pastor John Sowers: Jesus As a Vulnerable Refugee

Each year, in my Christian upbringing, the birth of Jesus was a highlight, a crescendo in the life of the churches we attended. The focus would be on the great joy of the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of God. There were times when the preacher would speak to the vulnerability of Jesus, the amazing and counter-intuitive claim that the God of the universe had allowed himself to become a tiny child.

Though the baby’s human vulnerability would be reflected upon, I don’t believe I ever heard a sermon on Joseph, Mary, and Jesus having to flee to Egypt to evade the murderous cruelty of King Herod. It was as if we American Christians could all imagine being a vulnerable baby, but we did not have a lens on what it would mean to be a vulnerable refugee family. We could read the story and have sympathy, but not empathy – if the definition of empathy mandates a lived knowledge of another’s experience.

One of the great blessings that God has given me in my sixteen years here are the encounters that I have had with refugees who have come to Spokane, many of them hosted and supported by World Relief… which means supported by all of us who give to undergird this ministry. My wife and I give to World Relief because we believe that its mission reflects the grace of Christ.

Pastoring First Presbyterian Church, I am also privileged to experience the partnership a church can have with our refugee community. For over forty years, First Pres has been the host and location of the Barton School, a place where immigrants and refugee adults can learn English from individual tutors. I walk the hall of the church during the week and hear languages from all over the world – what joy there is in that, what a foreshadow of when Jesus comes again and the whole world gathers to praise him in all the languages of creation.

First Pres is also the owner of the property (right across the street) where Feast World Kitchen is located and offers cuisine from all over the world prepared by immigrants and refugees. It is a wonderful, life-changing organization and we as a church are proud to play a role in it.

Add to Barton and Feast, we also have a number of people in our church who participate directly with World Relief as members of Good Neighbor teams, small groups who come alongside and care for WR-Spokane’s recent arrivals.

In all these ways I, and the church I pastor, enter into the lives of vulnerable refugees and immigrants. That is our privilege – a privilege that humbles us as we stand before our Lord, who was a refugee in his early life. It is one of the reasons I am glad that First Pres and the people of this church support the mission of World Relief.

Advent Blessings,

John Sowers

Pastor John Sewers from First Presbyterian Church
Pastor John Sewers from First Presbyterian Church

Senior Pastor, First Presbyterian Church Spokane

John Sowers has been the pastor at First Pres since 2007. Previously he pastored in Memphis, Tennessee. He is a graduate of Whitworth University and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He is married to Jen and they have two adult daughters, Kate and Emilie.

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