By Kori Bailey
…I was a stranger, and you invited me in… (Matthew 25:35)
Think about those times when you have needed to seek refuge. You’re at an outing in the park, when suddenly the clouds roll in, and the sky lets loose. What do you do? You head for the nearest picnic shelter and wait for a break in the rain. When children are afraid of things that go bump in the night, they call out for the security of a parent. I have even awakened my husband a time or twenty when my own thoughts go bump in the night. Overactive imaginations are scary! While my life has had some obstacles to overcome, and I may have encountered some challenges along the way, if I were to take an honest look at them, park pavilions, parents’ arms, husband’s reassurances, and even a pile of comfy blankets have basically covered all of my refuge needs to date.
That hasn’t been the case for all of the people I know. Near the edge of the Arabian Peninsula, in the small country of Jordan, I was first introduced to a group of people that were forced to flee from Evil so great that it tore from them the homes, health, families, and life they loved. Their stories of horror and hope, inscribed on the pages of these men’s and women’s lives, were the start of a transformation in the future chapters of my own life. I had gone to Jordan to teach English classes to refugees living there. I returned to America no longer looking at nameless faces or clinging to either side of a divisive political platform. Thankfully, God’s love pushed aside my fear and my indifference. It called me to open my heart to welcome those who had been forced into a world of uncertainty and vulnerability. It challenged me to love those who have been through real-life nightmares that park pavilions and comfy blankets can’t fix.
I have been discovering that part of letting love be the loudest is being willing to show up. Earlier this year, I learned about a refugee family that had just arrived that needed some help putting their new life together. When I heard a little bit about their story, my heart quickened, and I knew I wanted to meet them. I gathered a few personal-care items, purchased a bottle of laundry soap, and showed up at their door the next day with my husband and daughter in tow. What happened next was simply extraordinary. Our language barriers didn’t stop a wonderful evening of music, joy, and the genesis of new friendships.
For the past 5 months, we have become part of this precious family, and they are members of mine. They are warm and gracious, and I have learned a lot from their hospitality! This family has so little but willingly shares everything they have with their new American friends- especially coffee!
Over cups of coffee, we share pictures from our phones, and stories trickle out with the help of Google Translate and the occasional game of charades. I have been honored to be present when the mother was reunited with her son and grandchildren after many months apart. I have also had the privilege of listening to this same mother describe, through gestures, her pain over the death of her oldest son. Words are quite unnecessary to share someone’s pain and grief.
Despite the pain they have endured, the prejudices they must face as they acclimate to a new culture, and their struggles to learn a new language, I am a first-hand witness to the hope and joy that fills their faces when they feel welcomed and are no longer strangers.