Once We Were Strangers: What Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me about Loving My Neighbor

Once We Were Strangers: What Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me about Loving My Neighbor

by Shawn Smucker

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781493415199
Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/16/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 1,100,788
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Shawn Smucker is the author of the novels The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There. He lives with his wife and six children in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You can find him online at www.shawnsmucker.com.
Shawn Smucker is the author of the young adult novels The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There, as well as the memoir Once We Were Strangers. He lives with his wife and six children in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You can find him online at www.shawnsmucker.com.

Table of Contents

Part 1 The Friend

1 Two Grains of Sand 15

2 Help 17

3 The Question 21

4 Babel 27

5 If We Are Lucky 34

6 You Are Friends Now 37

7 The Long Walk 40

8 Finding Mohammad 44

9 Finding Hope 52

10 Za'atari 63

11 Do You Remember? 67

Part 2 The Foreigner

12 Neighbors 71

13 Falling All Around Us 80

14 Learning 83

15 The Unexpected Guest (or, My First Ramadan Meal) 91

16 Deeper into Jordan 99

17 A Place He Will Not See Again 107

18 Passing Each Other By 116

19 Income Requirements 120

20 Smiling through It All 127

Part 3 The Neighbor

21 Let's Be Neighbors 137

22 Bring Me Your Tired 148

23 The Good City 159

24 Through Trees and Shadows 171

25 Once We Were Strangers 176

26 When Are You Coming Back? 178

Postscript 185

Discussion Questions 189

Acknowledgments 193

Notes 195

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Once We Were Strangers: What Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me about Loving My Neighbor 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
summer_no9 More than 1 year ago
This book was remarkable writing, inspiring and compelling to read with also giving to learn through real story of the author of this book with back from his journey of how is two people, two family their was very different and the help that they are offering from the first had make friendship with Syrian Refugee but we still human. I highly recommend to everyone must to read this book. “ I received complimentary a copy of this book from Revell Reads Bloggers for this review”.
Benjamin Liles More than 1 year ago
Defeated. Humbled. I sit here tonight having finished this book from Shawn Smucker and I can't help but feel a sense of regret. One of the last books I reviewed, not fully recently, was a book of his, The Edge of Over There. At this point I feel not only as though I gave him injustice, but as Shawn says in this latest book (but in my view based on past experience), I was "unfair" (Once We Were Strangers, pgs. 165-166). Let it be a lesson when you review books as a disciple of Jesus Christ. He will rebuke and chasten in love. Within the pages of this book, it chronicles the lives of two men: Mohammed, a Syrian refugee, his wife, Moradi, and their four boys, as well as Shawn's life meeting him through a friend of his from Church World Service, later CWS within the pages of the book. As I look back over my reading of the book, coupled with the fact Shawn also uses Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, and my overall review of this book--God ordained events within Syria for a Christian man to see what God is getting at in His word toward us. Are we friends to those who need help? Or rather are they friends to us, considering we have basic to very little understanding of them? I not only felt convicted for how I treated Shawn's previous book I reviewed, Edge. I also feel a disservice because I'm saying something hard here: this is a wonderfully, well-thought out book. He writes as though he's a journalist digging out the truth of the Syrian war that has displaced this Sunni family into the Pennsylvania countryside of Lancaster. So, in short, and to wrap this up, forgive me for how I handled a previous book. I found it a hard read, and just should have said that. Shawn is able and a very competent, lovely writer. I pray this book makes it into a lot of hands that bless and encourage us all to be a "friend" to someone else who truly needs the help. And sometimes, you may end up realizing that other person is the Samaritan, you're the one who needed their help. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell for a fair and unbiased review of it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Though this book explores the traumatic effects of the Syrian conflict, its primary focus is on an unexpected, cross-cultural friendship that develops between Shawn, the author, and his friend Mohammad. It transitions back and forth between Mohammad’s past life experiences and Shawn’s perspective on his developing friendship with Mohammad. Shawn takes an honest, introspective look at his misconceptions, fears, and privilege, creating a safe space for readers to evaluate their own assumptions and privilege as they wrestle with difficult questions. As the story progresses, I saw significant growth in Shawn’s understanding of what it means to be a friend and neighbor. In the last chapter, Shawn states, “When I decided to reach out to Mohammad, when I decided to ‘help,’ I envisioned taking his family food or finding them furniture they needed or emailing him the address of the DMV. The help I was prepared to offer was help given at arm’s length, aid that would cost me perhaps a tiny bit of time and maybe a few dollars but not much more than that. But I, not Mohammad, needed more than that. Actually, it turns out we both needed the same thing. We both needed a friend.” One of the things I appreciate most in this book is that Mohammad’s personal narrative comes through concrete details. It’s not sensationalized, and many of the characterizing scenes take place in very mundane moments like dental appointments and meals with family. The concrete details and quotidian activities make Mohammad a three-dimensional, believable character, rather than a refugee archetype. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about the Syrian conflict, the refugee resettlement process in the U.S., cross-cultural friendship, and what it means to be a neighbor.
CaptainChaosMom More than 1 year ago
It always amazes me how friendships change our lives and this book is a testament to that. Shawn’s writing is eloquent and raw...an honest look at what it’s like to step out of your comfort zone and into another person’s life. I have learned in my life that friendship is usually is found in the most unlikely places and sometimes even when you're not expecting it. I really loved how the author unfolded the story of how he and Mohammad became friends and the things he'd learned about himself during the journey. Shawn's style of writing is one that has secured me as a fan for any books to come in the future.
Jocelyn_Green More than 1 year ago
Once I started reading this book, it was all I wanted to do. The conversational tone holds a subtle elegance befitting the subject matter. It was written with humility and grace, and within the author's friendship with Mohammed lies multiple challenges for me, as well, in the realms of friendship and loving my neighbor. Once We Were Strangers is a brief read, but one whose influence lingers long. I recommend it.
Teadrinker More than 1 year ago
I live in a university community with people coming in to our area from all over the world. More and more I see people from other countries living in my neighborhood. I want to reach out to them but honestly I don't know the best way. I wanted to read Once We Were Strangers by Shawn Smucker to give me some ideas of what it could look like to reach out to those from other parts of the world, whether they are refugees or students. Smucker tells this story along with Mahammad, the Syrian refugee that he met in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The story is told from both Smucker's point of view and with Mahammad's memories of the trip as he shares them with Smucker. There is a gentle back and forth motion to this story. It isn't a fast tale with high adventures, which Smucker thought he might be telling. However, it is a beautiful story of two human beings seeing past their differences and forging a friendship both with each other and with their families together. Mahammad has four sons with his wife that moved from Syria to the United States. Smucker has six children with his wife. These are men with a lot going on in their lives that made time for each other both individually and with their families to show love and hospitality. I was touched by several things throughout Once We Were Strangers. I learned that at least in the case of Mahammad he worked hard and it was a slow process to come to the United States. Then after he got here, he and his wife worked very hard every day and face so many of their challenges with courage and optimism. At one point Mahammad tells how he got together with friends who were his neighbors when he lived in Syria every day for 2 or 3 hours a day. He shares how much he misses that and how he wants to have that sort of relationship with his neighbors in the United States but he rarely even sees his neighbors. Smucker agrees that we Americans, in general, are awfully independent and it isn't easy for us to make time to do that kind of friendship these days. Yet, throughout this book, Smucker does make time to do this with Mahammad every couple of weeks, in spite of both of them having busy families. (Both Smucker and Mahammad share how much it has meant to them to have their friendship.) I would agree that it does seem harder to get neighbors together these days and how much better we would all be if we made time regularly to do just that. . .loving our neighbor in person. Once We Were Strangers didn't have a lot of Scripture and not a lot of talking about either person's faith. Instead, it was just shown how important it is to love our neighbors--and to ask ourselves, just who is our neighbor that Jesus calls us to love? I felt the focus was on building a relationship and friendship and it was neat to see how their friendship unfolded over time. I highly recommend Once We Were Strangers to everyone. I received this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.
rokinrev More than 1 year ago
Shawn Smucker is a dynamically gifted writer, as we have seen in his recent fiction “The Day the Angels Fell” and “The Edge Over There”. This new book takes on a reality...just who is my neighbor...that some people just aren’t too sure they want to talk about in this fairly selfish politically tinged society. This story is about 2 men trying to make a difference in their small worlds: Shawn, a struggling writer and Mohammed, a 2012 Syrian refugee trying to find a safer, better life for his family. When their two worlds intersect across a Conference table something like trust begins to shape a friendship. Once the chasm was breached they find they may have more in common than one may think. This is a MUST READ for churches reaching out to embrace refugees and others not welcome in a world where escapees will risk their lives for some semblance of order,peace and home. What starts as a fairly straightforward story draws you into a memoir of refuge and hope that changes both men, and in turn facilitates a friendship neither expected that first day. Highly recommended 5/5 [disclaimer: I received this book from the author and voluntarily reviewed it]
FayJac More than 1 year ago
This is a very good book about the friendship of the author with a Syrian Refugee and what it taught him about loving his neighbor. Mohammed is a gentle, loving, hard-working Muslim who befriended the author and showed him what love is. The story goes back and forth between the years Mohammed spent fleeing the war in Syria with his family and how Shawn got to know him. Our idea of friendship in America is different from other cultures. We tend to stay to ourselves, help at arm’s length and stay independent. Mohammed made Shawn open his heart and get involved in what God would say is “loving your neighbor.” Not only is this an interesting book, but it shows that not all Muslims are terrorists and relates the problems refugees deal with. It is a great book and I highly recommend it. (Please Note: While this book was given to me to review by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, the opinions expressed are my own.)
Copygirl More than 1 year ago
Have you ever ridden on a motorcycle with your spouse and four children? Yeah, me either. It sounds impossible. But when you're fleeing bombs in Syria, you do the impossible. Transporting your entire family on a single motorcycle. Patching bomb holes in your dining room. Leaving your home and country, taking absolutely nothing with you except food and water. Walking through the wilderness at night to cross the border to a safer country. Living in a sea of tents in a refugee camp. Waiting four years—unable to get permission to work or for your children to be in school—to be accepted as a refugee to the United States. Arriving in a new country, knowing no one, not knowing the language, and making a living and a life. This is Mohammad's story. And author Shawn Smucker's, as told in Once We Were Strangers. Smucker tells us Mohammad's story mixed with his own realizations about friendship—lessons learned from his relationship with Mohammad about the inadequacies of most American friendships: "I realize that in most of my friendships, so little is required of either party. In America, we've valued independence for so long that we haven't recognized the gradual slipping into loneliness. Now we fend for ourselves, depending on no one, asking nothing, and, because of that, receiving so little." Smucker is a beautiful writer, and the story moves along at a quick pace (for us, not as it was lived by Mohammad and his family). You won't want to stop reading (I didn't). And we'll be thinking about it for a long time to come. Maybe we will even be inspired to reach out to people who look or worship differently than we do, turning strangers into friends. I was privileged to receive a prepublication copy of Once We Were Strangers; but the review is my own.
lmbartelt More than 1 year ago
Does friendship matter? Can it change the world? What does it mean to be a friend? This book about a Lancaster, Pa. native and a Syrian refugee who resettled to the area addresses these questions in an honest story of making time and room for people in our busy lives. Once We Were Strangers isn't overtly dramatic or adventurous and friendship between these two men might not seem like anything significant. But that's exactly why it's the perfect book for the times we live in. Smucker doesn't set out to "save" his friend Mohammed from his circumstances, and the world doesn't noticeably shift because of their relationship. But these two men are changed, and how their relationship developed is accessible to all of us. We can all befriend someone with whom we have nothing in common simply by showing up and listening. (And repeating that process often.) If you can't imagine ever becoming friends with a Syrian refugee, I encourage you to read this book. If you don't understand why people flee their home countries, I encourage you to read this book. The chapters about Mohammed's family's exit from Syria are some of the hardest to read. If you fully support the resettlement of refugees in the United States, I encourage you to read this book. Disclosure: I read an advance copy of the book courtesy of Baker Publishing Group. Review reflects my honest opinion.