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.

Out October 16, 2018

208 pages approx.


I received this book in exchange for my honest review.


My grandfather always told me that politics and religion must never mix because both can be destructive forces if wielded for the wrong reasons.

First, the book itself is an easy read and won’t take long to get through.

With that said, I’m sure many will relate to the author, will never say what they really feel because of their ‘christian’ beliefs, and cringe inwardly at the mentioning of ‘Muslim” in this day and age.

Myself, as a Canadian living in a country that recently opened their doors to a huge number of displaced refugees from Syria, I have other issues other than religion and politics when referring to relationships with those from Syria.  My issues surround public events that occurred once the refugees arrived and my own personal interactions with them in our area, such as housing and health care.

You have to understand that everyone living on this world are the same in that we are all human.  It’s our humanity that makes us different.  How humane we are, is always influenced by religious, political and social convictions no matter how much we tend to deny it.

We’ve been shaped to judge those who are different, don’t fit into the social ‘norm’, and feel and think differently from ourselves.  I’ve discovered this as a mother of child with special needs. There are biases all over the world structured on human need to categorize people.  If someone doesn’t ‘fit’ into their category as the ‘norm,’ then they are condemned to be unimportant, insufficient, threatening and radical to the perfection humans seem to strive for every day. It took me fifty-five years to realize that ‘perfection’ is overrated.

Personally, I feel religion is destructive, has a viscious history of being such a controling force and has been wielded as a weapon or ‘reason’ for condemnation and annihilation. How many cultures have gone to war, in the name of God?  How many cultures have a history that is laced with battles frought with religous undertones based on their interpretation of the “word of God?”  All you have to do is research the religions of the world to see what I mean.

I feel politics is fundamentally driven by greed/money.  It is NOT about the people as it claims to be.  People who support politics are usually millionaires and billionaires.  How did they get this rich? Off the backs of those less fortunate who work and struggle every day to just make ends meet… Without a work force, one that is usually underpaid and exploited, those millionaires and their bank accounts and profits wouldn’t exist.  And worse yet, they’re allowed to get away with this.

Refugees mostly come from places that are strife with war, repression, oppression and cruelty.  They are seeking a place to feel safe, to be allowed the right that many of us in the freeworld take for granted–to live in peace, raise families without fear, and to grow personally. When they attempt to enter our world, they once again face similar cruelty like what they tried to escape from. Now, we are back to politics, religion and social standards.

My thoughts travel back in time to when hundreds of people came from England, Ireland, Scotland and the like, in search of a better world, a place to live where they could feel safe, be allowed to grow and prosper.   Even then, many faced bias, but they fought to stay and stay they did.  Canada is built on multicultures and is strong because of it.  Our country has its faults and guess what, it’s because of politicial, religious and social disfunctions.

In this book, I believe the author is trying to focus more on the humanity of humans, not the political, religious and social agendas of the country.  He speaks easily of his own self-discoveries and how people must learn to live together in order to move forward.

We should be celebrating our differences, respecting them and learning from them instead of condemning someone simply because they are not like us.  Everyone can contribute to this world, even my special needs daughter.  What does she contribute? She loves without condition, she never judges someone because they’re different, she would give the clothes off her back to anyone without and she loves life for what it is, not for what she can get out of it, no matter the cost.  She is smarter than some, can see through peoples’ bias and is sensitive to someone hurting or grieving. I’ve seen her go to them and take their hand in hers. She doesn’t say anything, but her kindness and smile is enough. She contributes every day by reminding those around her about their humanity and what it really means to be human. She can clean tables and stack shelves, etc., but she would rather visit the elderly who’ve been forgotten by busy family, or attend animal shelters and hold a rescued abused cat and stroke its fur pouring love and acceptance into her touch. To her injustice is the cold harsh reality of inhumanity.

Shawn Smucker asks people to judge less and accept more because we’re really not that different.  I agree.  So what does a Muslim contribute to humanity?  Maybe it’s time to find out; you might surprise yourself. Black, white, brown, pink, purple, green with orange polka dots… we are all human.

After all, if we all cut ourselves, do we not all bleed red?

I thank the publisher for this book.  It really got me thinking and in a good way.



3 thoughts on “ONCE WE WERE STRANGERS: WHAT FRIENDSHIP WITH A SYRIAN REFUGEE TAUGHT ME ABOUT LOVING MY NEIGHBOR, by Shawn Smucker, Fleming H. Revell Company/Baker Publishing Group

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