He didn’t say anything about 401 (k)s, says Rachel Webb, a fun, hip and earnest woman I interviewed for my book.
Instead, Webb pointed out, He said, “Go outside the camp.”
That’s Bible speak for get out of your comfort zone.
I love Rachel. She’s cool. She’s funny. In a lot of ways, she’s every woman. She and her husband have three kids and a dog. On the podcast she cohosted with her best friend, Megan, (The Megan and Rachel Show) she poked fun at the indignities of motherhood (putting sunscreen on squirming children, ill-fitting bras, the way your car’s low- fuel light inevitably pops on when you’re late), talked about being obsessed with true crime, cold cases, and associated podcasts (“Up and Vanished,” “Serial”) and shared their favorite things (compliments, whitening toothpaste, Jen Hatmaker books).
But she’s also very thoughtful, the kind of person who does intense self-examination. And that’s why she started working with refugees through her church, Christ Community Church, in Shelbyville, Ky., about 30 minutes east of Louisville, Ky. Her church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is so about getting out of your comfort zone that it says so on its website: “Going Outside with Jesus to Seek the City One Person at a Time.”
CCC, as it calls itself, was working with what was then called Refuge Louisville, intra-church organization focused on refugee resettlement.
Before her family began working with refugees, Webb said she remembered thinking, “I’m not racist,” and then caught herself. “When it came to people who are Muslim, I was,” she said. And then, in one of those strange coincidences that made her think, “Okay, God, what are you up to?” she learned that Christ Community Church was putting together a team to work with a refugee family. It was intimidating, but she and her husband, Lee, went for it— not just the two of them, but their kids as well.
“We decided we’re going to risk this and do this,” she said. They signed on to help with a family of seven from Ethiopia. When they met the family at the airport, the young Muslim mother was very reticent. But just a few months later, she pointed at Rachel and then herself and said: “Sisters.”
Webb said that refugee work is different from the other mission work she used to do. That was typically only one week of volunteer work in another city. That always felt comfortable and neat, she recalled. You go do your work, you quiet that inner voice nagging you about what you’re doing to help others (Webb told me “this is God talking to you”), and then go home to your neat, upper-middle-class home feeling good about yourself.
Refugee work is a relationship. It’s ongoing. It takes a lot of your precious time, and it dovetails neatly with Hebrews 13:13, a passage that drives both Webbs: “Let us go to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace that he bore.” Like many other verses that have moved volunteers, this is about helping the outsider. Going outside your camp, away from the familiar and into the unknown, is hard.
Webb said she experiences God’s presence when she’s uncomfortable. And working with refugees can be uncomfortable. When the Webbs first had the Ethiopian family to their home for dinner, she worried that she did “99 things wrong.”
“There are times when our kids would say, “‘We don’t want to go!’” Webb said, and added, “It’s not all bubbles and gum drops.” But she’d rather talk to her kids now about how Western culture can be self-centered rather than wait until they’re in their twenties and experiencing an existential crisis. “I’m okay that it gets a little funky sometimes,” she said, smiling. When she goes out with her Ethiopian friend, she sees the stares her friend gets because of her head scarf—it’s not intentionally mean, but people are curious because it’s different. And she finds herself thinking, “Wow, so this is what it feels like—as if you’re walking around with a third eyeball!”
So many of us focus on our own circle, our families and jobs, saving for our kids’ college, planning for retirement. And of course, we’ve got to take responsibility for our loved ones and ourselves. But Rachel Webb cuts to the heart of what motivates so many of these volunteers. She said that Jesus is her motivation. “So much of our life is about creating comfort and security,” she told me. “But Christ didn’t say, ‘Make sure you have a great 401(k)!’ He said, ‘Join me outside the camp.’ And this has allowed me to do that.”