All eight of us were crammed in an elevator at the local health clinic when Louise started screaming at the top of her lungs.
Understandably the single mom of 5, who had spent the last 20 years in a Congolese refugee camp, was startled when the floor started sinking beneath her feet. All of her kids immediately understood what was happening and started teasing her in Swahili. It was hilarious! My preschool-aged son and I belly laughed along with Louise and her entire family.
When I first greeted Louise at the airport, my heart ached at the sight of her. She looked exhausted from travelling with small children, and she pointed to her stomach indicating she felt sick. I was shocked that the only belongings she brought to her new life in America were contained in a simple piece of luggage that looked like a beach bag – her kids weren’t carrying anything at all.
I wondered where the father of her children was and who she had left behind that she may never get to see again. I wondered what horrors she’d faced that caused her to become a refugee in the first place. I literally couldn’t even fathom what she’d been through or what she was about to go through. If I felt helpless to communicate with her, how helpless must she feel to communicate with pretty much everyone around her?
As the weeks and months of my women’s group’s service to her through the World Relief Good Neighbor’s Program progressed, I found myself feeling less sorry for her and more amazed by her.
Clearly, she faced challenges. Speaking only Swahili, she was expected to learn to navigate our bus system, shop on a shoe string budget, use modern appliances and deal with Iowa’s winter weather for the first time, not to mention getting her children adjusted to life in an entirely different culture.
There were bad days. One year on Christmas eve, we found Louise terrified she couldn’t afford the rent anymore, fearing she’d be evicted if more affordable housing didn’t open up. Another time, I discovered they’d been living without heat in the middle of winter for several days, due to an inability to communicate properly with their landlord. Once, I opened the fridge and discovered it heartbreakingly empty, except a single can of tomatoes that had been pried open with a knife because they didn’t know how to use their can opener yet.
Opening my heart to this family during their time of need challenged me to step up and serve way outside of my comfort zone. But more often than not, instead of feeling sorry for them – I felt delighted by them, inspired by them and grateful for them. The kids were full of life and joy, and they were eager to learn. The mom was nurturing, sensitive and sweet – I was impressed by her devotion to her family and desire to give them opportunities. They were hard working, fun loving and grateful for every little blessing, even the opportunity to live in a tiny house in a rough neighborhood (by my my middle class American standards).
Overall, instead of feeling burdened by this family in need- I felt strengthened by them. If they could survive years in a refugee camp with their humanity in tact in such a delightful and loving way, what did I have to fear in this world?
God bless refugees to find safe place to build a new life, and God bless organizations like World Relief, which provide the support and resources refugees need to build a new life. Open more people’s hearts and minds to the joy found in service to displaced people through organizations like World Relief. Help more people to realize what You said in Luke 6:38 is true: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” In Jesus name, Amen
Opportunities to put your faith into action
Discover opportunities to serve refugees in your community through World Relief.