An Ethic of Hospitality

The Pilgrim Motif in Hebrews and the Refugee Problem in Kenya

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Emily Jeptepkeny Choge
Contrapuntal Readings of the Bible in World Christianity
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Wipf & Stock
    , July
     2020.
     266 pages.
     $32.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532699344.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

According to the International Rescue Committee, there are nearly 80 million refugees and displaced persons around the world. According to one report, Africa accounts for nearly 28 percent of the world’s refugee population and just under 50 percent of the world’s population of displaced persons, although Africans only constitute 12 percent of the global population. Emily Jeptepkeny Choge’s An Ethic of Hospitality: The Pilgrim Motif in Hebrews and the Refugee Problem in Kenya focuses attention on the refugee situation in Africa and offers ways for faith communities, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), and governments to respond.

As stated in the introduction, Choge sees her book as the first major work to address the refugee situation in Kenya through biblical-theological reflection. There have been earlier studies that draw out the historical and sociological aspects of the problem, but she draws on the pilgrim motif of Hebrews to frame it in biblical and theological perspectives.

The first chapter discusses several definitions of “refugee” and provides more details about the refugee situation in Africa. Choge outlines the purpose of her study, explains how it relates to previous scholarship on the topic, summarizes its significance, and introduces its methodologies. As she explains, the book  combines descriptive historical analysis, thematic and exegetical analysis of Hebrews, field study, and Christian ethical reasoning.

In chapter 2, Choge offers a historical analysis of the refugee situation in the Horn of Africa. She analyzes the recurring themes and patterns related to refugees in three historical periods: precolonial, colonial, and post-independence. This general overview leads to a more focused analysis of the historical realities that made Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi refugee-sending, and in some cases, refugee-hosting countries. The chapter closes with an assessment of the root causes of the refugee problem in Africa: external interference, civil rights violations/poor government leadership, and environmental disasters.

The third chapter surveys the various responses to the refugee problem. Choge starts by reviewing the burdens borne by host countries. While she commends the virtues of African hospitality, she also notes that it is waning, especially in countries with scarce resources. The author discusses the formal initiatives of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Organization of African Unity. 

Having provided a broad survey of responses to the refugee problem throughout Africa, the fourth chapter narrows the focus on Kenya. Choge frames her analysis of Kenya’s response with a brief history of the social, economic, and political realities of that country in the years before and after independence. The author identifies and discusses three factors that influenced Kenya’s response to refugees: land ownership, Kenya’s ailing economy, and issues related to the borders drawn by Africa’s colonists.  Choge’s discussion moves in concentric circles: she begins with the work of larger institutions like the Kenyan government and international NGOs before evaluating the work of smaller institutions like Jesuit Refugee Services and the National Christian Council of Kenya.

The fifth chapter turns to the epistle to the Hebrews as the biblical-theological framework for the Kenyan church’s response to the refugee problem. Drawing on the formative work of Ernst Käsemann and those who followed him, Choge traces the pilgrim motif, first in ancient Israel, then in the epistle to Hebrews itself. This chapter includes a short orientation to Hebrews and a review of literature on the pilgrimage motif. It then synthesizes the key components of the motif before offering a fuller exegetical analysis of Hebrews 11:13–16. The author demonstrates an awareness of key issues related to Hebrews and the secondary scholarship on the pilgrimage motif.

The next chapter considers the role of the church in Kenya in addressing the refugee problem there. This chapter is both retrospective, as it critically surveys the history of the church’s response to refugees, and prescriptive, as it offers specific ways for the church to engage the problem in the present. Choge draws on the work of John Hoder Yoder and Henry John Okullu to outline the mission of the church in the world and evaluates the degree to which the church in Kenya has fulfilled its vocation. Next, drawing on the four-dimensional method of moral formation developed by Glen Stassen and David Gushee, she offers a constructive ethic for responding to the refugee crisis and recovering the church’s pilgrim identity. The four dimensions are: the way of seeing, the way of reasoning, passions and loyalties, and basic convictions.

The final chapter summarizes the main contributions of the previous chapters and offers a set of recommendations. Choge starts with recommendations to churches in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa because of their “unrivaled political power” (189). Her recommendations include attending to the root causes of the refugee problem, responding to the short- and long-term needs of refugees, and raising the awareness of church members about the experience and needs of refugees. From there, Choge offers tangible recommendations to Christian NGOs, the Kenyan government, the UNHCR, and other Christians around the world. The book concludes with three appendices, a bibliography, and three indices.

An Ethic of Hospitality provides a rich, interdisciplinary, and compelling proposal for responding to the refugee problem in Kenya and for addressing the root causes that lead to the forcible displacement of people in Africa. It is full of historical insight and  a tremendous working knowledge of the efforts by NGOs in the Great Horn region to respond to the refugee problem there. Choge’s work is both deeply contextual and confessional in nature. The contextual approach is one of its greatest strengths. Choge’s focus on Kenya not only adds particularity to her analysis, but also it makes it more personal and engaging. The work is also explicitly confessional, as it is framed and carried out in Christian theological terms and its primary audience seems to be members of Choge’s faith community, both in Kenya and elsewhere in the world. Readers interested in the refugee crisis or the epistle to the Hebrews will find much to engage in this book.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Christopher T. Holmes is the Stembler Scholar and director of biblical and theological education at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, Georgia.

Date of Review: 
May 30, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Emily Jeptepkeny Choge is an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy, Religion, and Theology at Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya. Her writing has appeared in many academic journals. She also has contributed to The Global Dictionary of Theology (2008) and Africa Bible Commentary (2006).

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