An Interview With D.L. Mayfield


This week I am so excited to be interviewing D.L. Mayfield, an author and fellow lover of refugees and marginalized people who is pursuing Jesus's upside down kingdom. D.L. writes about theology, refugees, and downward mobility. You can find her book, Assimilate or Go Home: Notes From a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith on Amazon (the Kindle version is only $1.99 through the end of July!). Be sure to follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page as well.

Tabitha McDuffee: To begin, can you talk a little bit about how you first began building friendships with refugees? What stirred your heart to seek them out?

D.L. Mayfield: I was attending Bible college to be a missionary and honestly I wanted relationships in the meantime that would give me the space to pursue my dreams currently (AKA practice on people--which is terrible!). Once I got connected through Catholic Charities refugee resettlement program, I became involved in the lives of one family and ultimately a larger community of Somali Bantu refugees in Portland, OR, and they ended up changing my life. 

TM: Your book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes From A Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith was published last year. Can you summarize what the book is about?

D.L.: It’s really an exploration of my own savior complex, which was ultimately revealed to me after years of living and working in refugee communities in the US.

TM: What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your refugee friendships? What have you learned from those mistakes?

D.L.: My biggest mistake was thinking I had all the answers--both theologically and culturally and practically. I wasn’t raised to be a listener--I went to school to “proclaim” the good news! I also didn’t have a robust understanding of inequality, suffering, and pursuing mutuality instead of hierarchy. All of these things made it hard for me to be in real relationship with my refugee friends and neighbors. I realized that many white evangelicals take it for granted that we are the experts on everything, and this simply isn’t true. Eventually, however, I was able to start to be changed by diverse relationships. And I still have so much to learn! I’m glad my friends and neighbors forgive me and keep teaching me.

TM: Why do you think that failure is so formational and so important for those working in ministry to experience?

D.L.: Again, I think it is vital for uprooting the white supremacy/colonialism we are taught, particularly in theology and missions. Failure teaches us that we aren’t God. It makes us seek out who Christ really is and what he is up to in our world--and it is always in the places that the empire overlooks.

TM: One of the topics you’re really passionate and write about in your book is downward mobility. Can you explain what downward mobility is and why it’s integral to the Christian faith?

D.L.: Downward mobility can be a tricky term to define, because there are so many variations. Broadly speaking, it means to swim against the current pushing us to forever be upwardly mobile (if we have the privilege of doing that)--better neighborhoods, better schools, bigger houses. What does it mean if we reject that notion of a successful life? What if we organize our work and money to revolve around our communities--preferably communities involving marginalized populations--and live more for the common good? Pursuing less in order to be in proximity with our brothers and sisters experiencing poverty has been an incredible experience for me and my family. The two most practical ways to start to pursue this would be to assess your mortgage and your school choices for your children. Are you making these decisions out of what’s best for you, or what is best for the community as a whole?

TM: What advice would you give to someone who is seeing the plight of refugees around the world and the hostility toward them and wants to help? What’s the best way to help without hurting (yourself or others)?

D.L.: The most important thing we can do is stand up to anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric at every turn. Based on the language in our public and political discourse, I believe we are using pre-genocidal language and that there are real and severe consequences (I have Muslim friends who have been threatened with danger, here in Portland OR). Christians especially have caved in to fear-based propaganda surrounding refugees and immigrants, and we need to call them out on it. There is no place for language that dehumanizes people in the church. This includes calling people illegals or saying all Muslims are terrorists.

The second most important thing would be to find creative ways to pursue proximity with refugees and immigrants in your own city. Send your kids to school with them. Volunteer through resettlement agencies. Attend an immigrant church for a Sunday. I believe once people establish true relationships with refugees and immigrants and hear the totality of their stories then none of us will rest until we see peace and justice and safety for our friends.