Since we’ve been given the biblical mandate that we all belong to each other {Romans 12:5, NLT}, this fall at (in)courage we wanted to spend some deliberate time together unpacking what that means.

To focus on what it means to love my neighbor as myself.

To open our hearts for dialogue about what it might look like to walk around in someone else’s shoes.

So we’re hosting a conversation here every Wednesday for the next few weeks about what it looks like to do life in a way that reflects the timely truth that we actually are better together. Won’t you join us as we invite writers from our community to share what doing life Better Together has looked like in real time for them?

And then consider what living life — like we are better together — might look like for you too.

I once sat with a farmer in Israel who had all the trees in his orchard cut down by his neighbor — and he turned to me and he said, “I refuse to be enemies with anyone.”

View More: http://christineandersonphotography.pass.us/telos-trip-march-2015
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After replanting new trees with him — I sat there beside him, quieted, shaken by his words.

Being enemies is not an option.

Being human beings who belong to each other is the only option.

I’d once stood in a smothering humidity with a gray-haired grandfather up on a mountain ledge overlooking the suffocating poverty of Haiti, and when he was asked why he didn’t leave here, why he didn’t move his family away to a more comfortable country, he turned to us, all of us, and he said words that cut me open and grafted me into something, and I have never forgotten them:

“I am Moses. I do not leave my kindred.

It felt like the whole planet had reverberated.

You don’t ever forget who your sister is — when you know Who your Father is.

When you are born again into the Kingdom of God, how can you ever again forget your kin? 

Part of the world’s healing is doing whatever it takes to get your heart to stay close to the hurting.



I once sat in a shipping container in Iraq with 4 mamas and not one of those mothers were ever allowed to go to school — because they were girls.

Not one of them can read. Not one can write. Not one of them can even read or sign any letters of their name. They have been made invisible. Made invisible prey for poverty and trafficking and despair.

The baby in one of the Mama’s arms, the baby she was pregnant with when she was running away from ISIS, he flails and gasps to breathe, drowning in the mucus of pneumonia from sleeping in a tuck box, and the Mama asked the doctor —

“He has to live. My baby must live. We have already cried a flood. When will it end?”

I look her in the eye.


All this pain starts to end when the world lives what we actually are: We are sisters. We are a sisterhood.

We belong to each other.

We belong to the women who can’t read, we belong to the women who have been stripped of every hope, who are being sold in slave markets, whose daughters are coming back to them with ripped apart virginity.

War or poverty or ISIS doesn’t own these women — they belong to us. They belong to the sisterhood of the world.

When we live like we all belong to each other, we answer much of the longing in the world.

And I know exactly where I was when I saw the photo of  little 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, his limp body drowned in the Mediterranean, his parents trying to escape the warring of ISIS by clinging to each other and a dinghy and a dream of freedom to be safe.

I’d stood there:

Aylan Kurdi could have been any one of our little boys. How many times have I tied up my boys’ shoes just like Aylan’s still were when his body was picked up on the beach?

Aylan Kurdi’s parents could have been us — We could be the mother, the father, trying not to simply better our lives, but escape war and save our lives.

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I sat there staring at that picture of Aylan . . . of his weeping father, a refugee from Syria.

If we only watch humanitarian crisis and do nothing — does that make us sensationalists — when we’re called to be incarnationalists? We’re here to incarnate Christ.

I’m a slow learner, learning the art of global neighboring:

Do not turn away from those hurting — because it turns out you could be the hurting.

See yourself in them — who could have been you.

I’d scrawled it across the chalkboard by the kitchen table:

The test of your humanity

is if your heart toward another,

is what you would like another’s heart to be toward you

if you changed places with one another.

Sometimes when I put our own kids to bed, when we lay there praying for all our neighbors in the world, I can hear their heartbeats. The heartbeats of all the children in the world.

Sometimes you look into the eyes of the children in the news . . . and your heart beats like an echo of your Father’s heart:

There are no other people’s children — they are all our children.  

Sometimes you can hear it in the news, at the corner coffee shop, the fears that rattle all of us, that try to chain our doors and lives shut:

What is the basis for opening our hearts and our doors to the hurting, the stranger, the refugee, the global neighbor?

Isn’t there a risk to letting the global neighbor in?

What if taking in the global neighbors, whose lives are endangered, we somehow are endangering our own lives, our own country?

It’s true: Humanitarian crisis can create a crisis of faith.

It’s true and it is hard and beautiful and hard:

There is a risk to letting the stranger in — it is the risk of taking up a cross. It is the risk of dying to self.

There is risk to letting the stranger in – and it is the risk of letting Christ in to your life to do your life His way.

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me . . .” {Matthew 25:35}

And it is always worth the risk:

It’s worth literally risking something for our global neighbor because the Gospel is literally worth everything. And worth risking everything for.

It’s worth living the truth of the Sermon on the Mount for our global neighbor because we’ve been bought and paid for with a price on Mount Calvary.

It’s worth Loving the Other – because Jesus loved us when we were the Other.

That means living the Gospel — or we may come face to face with the fact we don’t really believe the Gospel.

The Lord commands us to do good unto all men without exception . . .

[The Scripture] teaches us that we must . . . think only of [man’s] creation in the image of God to which we owe all possible honor and love” is what  John Calvin wrote in the Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life.


I looked into the eyes of a little girl in Iraq, the age of our little girl, and I touched her hand. Her eyes spoke words into me I will never forget:

When we understand that we are all made in the Image of God, the Imago Dei, we are global neighbors who stand with each other and for each other and about each other.

There are no other people’s children — they are all our children.  

What begins to ends injustice and indifference and inhumanity everywhere — is when we start seeing the Imago Dei in everyone.

When we forget that we belong to each other, we participate not only in the devastation of the world, but in the desecration of the image of God.

That little girl looked like the image of a bit of glory.

Once I read about how, when the plagues hit early Rome, Roman citizens were tossing their infected family out into the streets for fear of catching the contagious, fatal plague.

And it was the Christians, who, at great risk to their lives, went out and gathered up sick children, sick neighbors, sick brothers and sisters, because the Christians were affected by a greater condition.

It was the risky love of the Christians who had the Roman Emperor Julian write, “The Christians love our poor better than we do.”

It could happen again: It’s us who can be a contagion of compassion.

In the global neighborhood, it’s Christians who can completely reshape society simply by reaching out.

In a hurting world of global neighbors, it’s Christians who can be an epidemic of dangerous love.

Sometimes you can hear it out in the streets, like a thrum of that holy, dangerous love in your veins:

There are no other people’s children, no other people’s sisters, no other people’s people —

they are all our children, they are all our sisters, we are all each other’s people.

Read More:

Read more about the invitation and the movement to welcome refugees over here.
Read 5 ways to stand up and be the church in the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II over here.
Read about Iraq, ISIS, and Sozan’s impossible choice and our possible one over here.
For more information on the hammered metal artwork and inspirational globe in the above photos click here.
Download the free printable: A Prayer for Freedom over here.

A Prayer:

Lord, open our hearts so we might open our homes. Because we belong to each other. {Tweet this!}

  • Penny

    Oh Ann, you say it so beautifully, simple words strung together with profound impact. So many times lately, I sit at my computer reading the news, crying at the immense hurt in this world, wondering what can I do? I realize, in light of all of it, how light and momentary my troubles really are. I don’t want to be merely an observer, a witness to the world’s atrocities. I will not forget the moment I walk away from the pictures. I’m not sure what that looks like, yet. But their cries will become my catalyst. Thank you for opening your heart and sharing your stories with us.

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      Penny, I am praying with you in all of this, an army of us, and we. won’t. stop…O Lord, hear our cry.

  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    ISIS and other extremist groups paint the Arabic symbol for “N” or Nazarene on the fronts of Christians’ homes…not unlike the swastikas that were painted on the Jews’ doors. It meant and means you are a marked person. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are marked people. The enemy has them in his cross hairs and we blithely go about our everyday business. A child in Pakistan claims that he is a Christian and is then set ablaze in the streets in broad daylight and the authorities do nothing. This is the reality of what is happening to our neighbors…the body of believers…the unity of humanity. It’s past time to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. God calls us to “defend the orphan and plead for the widow”…there are a lot of them in the Middle East right now. If anyone would like to help me save one orphan at a time in Pakistan…I invite you to my blog…or Ann supports life giving missions as well. We don’t have to sit back and say, “My how awful for them.” We CAN make a difference. Wonderful and much needed post, Ann.
    Blessings to you in making the world aware,
    Bev xx

    • Penny


      Thank-you for bringing us awareness. I am somewhat naive and honestly can’t comprehend all of this cruelty. Bless you and thank-you for being a voice and stepping up for these innocent children.


      • Bev @ Walking Well With God

        I don’t think anyone can comprehend such cruelty??? I truly believe one precious life at a time DOES make a difference…

  • Penny


    Thank-you for delivering your message of compassion and humanity (as always). It’s all heart wrenching and I agree, it can not be ignored. I have never understood why one child should be treated differently than another. Should they not all have hopes and dreams and be free to be safe? Should parents not all have peace of mind and hope for their children … to be safe.

    I pray for hardened hearts to be softened.

    “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).

    There needs to be more of the welcoming.

    Blessings to you and your family Ann….

  • Ro Elliott

    Thank you for this pured out offering …powerful words….words that penetrate deep into our souls… I hate to admit it…but I have lived too long without seeing everyone as my brother and sister… I feel like the blind person when Jesus touched His eyes…I see trees… But I know God will open my eyes and heart if I continue to allow Him… And admonishment like this are part of the ways He touches my eyes and heart… As I have learned to receive that I have unsurpassable worth in Christ…I am able to ascribe unsurpassable worth to others… We can’t give what we don’t have… The work is an inside out work… Blessings to you dear Ann!!!

    • Lynn D. Morrissey

      Oh Ro, I’m right with you. My eyes are finally opened, and my heart is beginning to be opened. May He fill our hearts with compassion so as to respond. Bless you, dear one.

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      Nodding here, such beautiful words straight from your heart, Ro. You’re not alone, we’re not alone in this. Reaching over and squeezing your shoulder, sister…all of us together, hanging on to each other, and HIM.

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Ann, I so appreciate this heartfelt sharing, that you are not a sensationalist absorbed in just passively watching all the horror being perpetrated against so many, but an incarnationalist, actively working for the helpless, living out the life of Christ. Yesterday, in church, our pastor said that people are not our enemies. Yes, he and I understand that we do have enemies, and our governments are God-ordained to protect people, but the pastor knew as the Reformers knew, that the world, the flesh, and the devil are our true enemies. When we stop thinking of people, hurting people, displaced people, as neighbors, but rather as our enemies, our hearts are fearful and hardened and closed. It’s impossible then to share the love of Christ. Or at the very least, we might, as Scripture says “pray for our enemies,” but it will always be from a distance. To live the Gospel, to share Christ’s love, one must have empathy. One must walk in others’ shoes. And for many, they don’t even have shoes. Then one must imagine what it is like to walk without them. I can’t fathom it. But as I try, and as I imagine my feet bleeding, my heart starts to–my heart starts to bleed and ache and palpitate with pity. Something is twisted, something is terribly wrong when *Christians* are the most vocal and vitriolic and shout the loudest about barricades to block the bleeding, the hurting the hungry, the helpless, the homeless of these our “global neighbors,” as you so aptly put it. I just now thought this, but could it be that we Christians are becoming enemies of God when we close our hearts to welcoming the stranger, the elder, the child, the preborn child? If we do not care about what God cares about—if in fact, we even prevent it, then are we *His* enemies? We have lost our way. We have lost the compassion of Christ. We’ve become insulated and isolated, with a hunkered-down, me-first, us-or-them mentality. And I don’t know how it is in Canada, where you live, but I am beginning to think that much of the nationalism which American Christians exhibit, is a kind of patriotic pride that forgets that we are citizens of heaven first and foremost. We put country before Creator. And yes, if we are Kingdom kids, then all kids around God’s great globe are our family. I will admit to you to feeling hopelessly helpless. I am one little person, and I have no idea what to do. But (as your friend Deidra says), could I do some little thing to help? We support a child through Compassion, and we have talked to our church about helping when the refugees come. In St. Louis, we have a large Bosnian population, and our daughter is spending time with them planting gardens. We have spent time with her Muslim friends, taken them to dinner, invited them to our home. (And I am sad to tell you that at first I was really frightened to do that. I listen to too much *Christian* radio!!!) It starts with opening our hearts, with opening our eyes, with opening our minds, with asking for the mind of Christ. You have to be aware before you can help. But now that I am, I am asking what to do. I know God will show me. I just know that Jesus says to welcome the stranger. How can we not? Thank you, Ann, for your tireless efforts, and for your pure heart of love, for loving well your neighbors near and far. God is watching and smiling.

    • Penny

      I don’t think that you should feel what you do is inadequate, every single bit of humanity matters. This weekend I was at the park with my son. He played with children that were all different. I think adults have a lot to learn from them. But like you mentioned fear tends to get in the way. As a Canadian I feel that fairness as well as compassion in the treatment of others matters. I don’t believe the Lord intended for us to treat anyone less than we would someone else.


      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Thank you for these kind words, Penny. Exactly . . . would that we could be like children. They see people as people, period. I really believe if we can get to know people one-on-one, heart-to-heart, fears will melt. Thank you for your encouragement.

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      just — love you so, Lynn… and you loving on a little person? Just — *thank you for changing the world.*

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Oh Ann! You should see photos of our little Compassion child, Williams (yes, his first name has an “s”), from the Dominican Republic. He will be four this month, and he is so precious. Yes, Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world!

    • Beth Williams


      We can’t do everything!! I feel you are doing a good job. God is pleased with us when we do the little things to little people Not everyone can go overseas or give lots of money. ” Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” That pleases God!!!
      Blessings :)

  • http://genuflected.com/ Jenni DeWitt @ Genuflected.com

    My “them and us” vision of the world was shattered back in 2012 when my son was diagnosed with cancer — something that only happened to “them.” We were shown mercy and love I didn’t even know still abounded so hugely in this world. As my son heals, the worldly ways of life tug me back toward a “them and us” mentality. Thank you, Ann, for gently reminding me to stay in “us” mode.

    • Penny


      Huge hug


    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      Jenni…yes, yes, you have it…you’ve seen it & you know it to be true: it really is “us”…

  • Kaley

    Thank you for posting this, it helps me to realize that my troubles are nothing compared to these people’s.

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      and I’m right there with you, Kaley…preaching Gospel to myself every day…

  • http://www.jenniferdukeslee.com/ dukeslee

    Thank you, friend. And I love you with a big love that stretches all the way from our pig barns to yours. :) … We’re in this with you. And now maybe our little church is, too? Or at least a few of us in the church… We’ve gotten connected with a center that is bringing refugees in, even as we speak, from Iraq and Sudan and the Congo…. and many of them displaced by ISIS. This is but 30 miles from our farm! Syrian refugees are coming within the year, and they are needing families to meet them at the airport, furnish their houses, be a friend, give a hug, make the warmest welcome. Who better than the people of Jesus? Who better than the people of the cross? We must. We are always, always, always better together. We belong together.

    No man is an island. No man is an “I” land.

    • Lynn D. Morrissey

      Love that I-land, Jennifer. Great way to remember it. I won’t forget that.

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      so many tears…humbly bowed and praying with you, friend. We were BORN for this, for such a time as THIS! To BE like Christ in this world…

  • JeanneTakenaka

    Ann, it’s been through your posts about the refugee crisis that have really opened my eyes to my very limited view of the world. As a full-time mama and busy in our small world, it’s easy to not look for those who are truly hurting. It’s far too easy to focus on my family and hunker down to protect my boys from this world. But that’s not what Jesus calls us to do. He calls us to let our hearts hurt for those things that break His. He calls us to act. For me, that is mostly through prayer, and small giving right now. And opening myself to hurt for those who are heart broken and world-weary.

    Thank you for this post and the reminder to see everyone as imago Dei. I need this printed up and hanging in my kitchen where I see it daily. Thank you for challenging me to open my eyes and look beyond my little circle in this big world.

    • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

      Love your open heart after His, Jeanne…It’s pretty astounding, isn’t it? God gives to us — and then Christ in us — gives back to God — and He gets all the glory all round. Praying with you in all of this…

  • Rosie Bachand

    This is so special. there’s no way to express how beautiful it is. immediately after reading this, however, i read someone’s blog about what would i do for God if i knew i wouldn’t fail. this would be it. i can only pray that those younger, more energetic, and healthier will be able to be my “stand-in”. i would just like to heal the hearts of the families that struggle so hard. and prayer is all i have.

  • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

    Oh Amiee, Steve’s words bring many tears. Someone was willing — willing to be God’s hands and feet…to welcome a stranger. Thank you, thank you for sharing this here with us…

  • http://www.holyvacationqueen.com Kathy/holyvacationqueen.com

    you break our hearts which is so needed. Keep breaking our hearts!

  • Angela

    What do you do when you don’t know WHAT to do? God opened my eyes a long time ago, and He has been working on my heart ever since. I believe in starting with those around me- and reaching out, out, out… but it never ends. And I am not a capable, practical person. I only know that God matters most and I love people. I ask God each day to intersect my life with those He wants mine to touch… and to show me how… but I really don’t feel I have answers. I want to live in such a way that I KNOW what He wants me to do. But I don’t know how.

  • http://www.beckykeife.com/ Becky Keife

    Every time I see Aylan’s picture my heart breaks into another million pieces. He’s the same age, the same stature, wearing the same gray and orange shoes just like my three year old Jude. Yes, both are my sons. I believe we all belong to each other. Thank you, Ann, for these words and helping us understand how we can better live our true belonging.

    • http://www.holyvacationqueen.com Kathy/holyvacationqueen.com

      Me too Becky. Agonizing.

  • Beth Williams

    Thank you for opening our eyes to

    • Megan

      Thank you all for your comments and Ann for your article. My family and I just arrived overseas to live incarnationally among refugees here. So thankful that God is opening doors to love these people. Help us love them well!

  • Megan Brown

    Ann, thank you for drawing attention to this huge, huge issue in our world. For several years now, God has been stirring my heart toward the refugee community here in our neck of the woods and around the world. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to teach high school ESL to refugee students from all corners of the globe. Though I absolutely hate that these precious ones have endured so much struggle in their short lives, I view it as an absolute honor and privilege to welcome them into my classroom and help them transition to life in urban America. My husband and I are in the process of purchasing a home in a somewhat run-down, high-crime area of our city where the majority of our refugees are resettled. We are thrilled about the idea of literally moving into the neighborhood, welcoming the refugee into our home, and truly serving as the hands and feet of Christ!