Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Assimilate Or Go Home: A Beautiful & Necessary Book Of Refugees & Stateless Wanderers

D. L. Mayfield starts off her book with failure. She writes of showing an apartment of full of devout Muslims The Jesus Film. What I love about how she narrates this experience was the fervent desire to proselytize and play the missionary. Realizing that the "heavy yoke" of her desire to convert was slipping off her shoulders, Mayfield sat there and listened to the rhythms of a foreign language and, instead of worrying about converting them, she simply entered their lives and loved them. She writes:

"Slowly, I started to enter more fully into the world of my refugee friends. As the days and months blended into years, I experienced strange paradoxes. The more I failed to communicate the love of God to my friends, the more I experienced it for myself. The more overwhelmed I felt as I became involved in the myriad of problems facing my friends who experience poverty in America, the less pressure I felt to attain success or wealth or prestige. And the more my world started to expand at my periphery, the more it became clear that life was more beautiful and more terrible than I had been told. The differences, although real, started to blur together a bit. Muslim, Christian, Somali, American. We were being told to assimilate or go home, but we couldn't do that either."

We live in a climate that has become hostile to refugees, immigrants and migrants. Somehow there is a fear of contamination, especially if they are Muslim. Xenophobia is rampant as so many of our political leaders and a great number of people in this country want to ban foreigners, particularly Middle Easterners, from entering the United States.

D.L. Mayfield writes with thoughtful honesty and deep humility. Growing up Evangelical, she had a heart for converting the world for Christ but found that what was needed was loving the world because she, herself, was being converted daily to become more like Christ. What began with eager enthusiasm crashed into the hard realities of being a missionary. She discovered that chasing spiritual highs would leave her continually unsatisfied. Mayfield admits that she had to learn to stop seeing herself as "the generous benefactor" when she would discover "just like the Bible said, it was the poor, the sick, and the sad who would be blessed in the kingdom of god - and they would be the ones who would reveal it to me."

The book is written as essays to mirror the four general stages a refugee goes through in acclimating to their new lives: anticipation , reality, depression and acceptance.  She deftly connects her own spiritual journey using these four stages as she moves from religion to the kingdom of God. The more she was drawn to this kingdom, the more she found herself drawn to the margins, to the "stateless wanderers of the earth" where Jesus said he would always be found. "I used to want to witness to people," she writes, "to tell them the story of God in digestible pieces, to win them over to my side. But more and more I am hearing the still small voice calling me to be the witness. To live in proximity to pain and suffering and injustice instead of high-tailing it to a more calm and isolated life. To live with eyes wide open on the edges of of our world, the margins of society."

D. L. Mayfield has an intelligence and compassion that comes through in her prose. She is a skillful storyteller who is not afraid to reveal her failures as she questions her own motives for why she really was working with the poor Somali Bantu refugees in Portland, where she lives.  Her story is coming to the realization that following Christ isn't about simply believing in Jesus and going to heaven. As she writes, " . . . reading Jesus's words it becomes apparent that the kingdom is very much about the here and now, changing the world to reflect what God desires: the oppressed would have justice, the poor would be fed, and the stateless wanderers would be taken care of."

The books title, Assimilate or Go Home, confronts the reality that so many in this country and in the Church have. Be and act like us, or go away. With the huge crisis of global refugees the world is currently facing, this book takes on a deeper and more painful meaning. Reading this book, one sees the hardships that come with refugees who struggle to but cannot seem to assimilate in their new country with its culture and language. It's a complex issue that Mayfield writes about with compassion as well as frustration. Being present to their pain and suffering and poverty is hard, tiring, emotionally exhausting. "I realized I was tired of being comfortable with sickness and death and inequality," she says, "so, too, was I tired of being overwhelmed with all of the places it seemed God was absent."

Yet there is nothing more Christ-like than loving others in the midst of their trauma and poverty. To speak up and be a witness against a system that's broken and in desperate need of repair. Mayfield, despite the hardships, remains hopeful, remains engaged, remains involved. Like the author, all of us need to be present and in "proximity to the pain and suffering and injustice" so that we, too, can be a witness. It's about leaving the mission field to find, instead, community. Assimilate or Go Home is a must-read.

Check out D. L. Mayfield's official website Living in the Upside Down Kingdom:


  1. I loved this book too. I think it has such an important message for Christians in this age: that, not so much changing and converting others we need to allow God to change and convert US as we connect with those he brings us in contact with.