I told a new friend of mine on the phone today that I only volunteer to do stuff I love to do. I don’t want to be on the PTA or the Finance Commission. Don’t want to drive shut ins around on bad roads. So I do stuff like organize housing for a family of refugees fleeing Sudan.
The Konda family is made up of a mom, a dad, a seven year old boy, and a six year old girl. They fled Sudan and have lived as refugees in Egypt, waiting.
Advent is also a season of preparation, a season of waiting. In the Christian faith it is waiting for the birth of the Christ, He who will leave behind a tribe of fearless children to be His hands and to show His love. Interestingly enough, Advent is upon us in more ways than one.
The family has been waiting to be chosen to be moved as refugees to the US. Waiting to be lifted from what is a life of probably equal parts misery and fierce familial love. Finally, finally, the word came. And so I imagine they have been preparing. I imagine they have been saying goodbye to friends and family, not knowing if they will ever come back, but probably knowing this could be the last time. I imagine they have been trying to prepare young children for a move from Egypt to good old West Michigan. Have they ever seen an elm tree? A squirrel? A bluejay? Snow?
This week has been a blur of work and trying to organize the housing for the family. Oh yes, and all of the things that one puts in a house, from can openers to garbage bags to beds. I will be SO glad to meet this family tomorrow, and so tonight is Konda Eve. And this week has been a week of waiting and preparation for the advent of a new family to welcome to our community.
Another new friend said that being in the house, which has been furnished right down to the last colander and wall clock, is emotional. She got a little choked up here, a little verklempt. But I know what she means.
I cannot imagine or comprehend the kind of violence and open warfare that would make me run from my home. I cannot imagine living as a refugee, with an uncertain future; and I certainly cannot imagine arriving in a country I have never visited not speaking the language, trusting other people to make this ok. I have sort of a hard time trusting people anyway, this would be mind-numbingly awful. I’m told they will be hungry, that they may not have eaten for days, because our food is weird and different, and, not speaking English, how would they even know what to ask for? I’m sure they will be exhausted. The thought of driving to, say, Chicago with my children is exhausting and makes me want to go and hide in the closet. Hours and hours on a flight. Customs and immigration in Miami. Chicago, and that last hop over the blue jewel of our lake. Home.
I took a final look around tonight before we left. I’d cracked some windows and turned down the heat because whoever lived there last chain smoked in the living room with the windows closed ALL DAY EVERY DAY. I’d left the light on over the sink. I love an oversink light, something about it is just so homey to me. This isn’t a second hand – thrift shop deal folks. This is bags and bags of linens that are new and have tags on them. I cut the tags off myself when I tossed them in my washing machine to give them the clean, lasting and utterly American scent of Tide. There are toys that are still in their boxes. Almost all of the items I unpacked in the kitchen were new. The couch we received isn’t some nasty plaid nubby thing, it’s a really nice overstuffed couch. We have a TV coming, we have lamps on bedside tables, clean, new mattresses waiting for Tide fresh sheets.
This is it: people who drove on nasty roads from Grand Rapids to deliver beds.
This is it: an Arabic New Testament on a dresser in a bedroom that will house two people who are doing all they know how to do to keep their children safe.
Even if that means running. Even if that means being afraid and having to be brave anyway. Even it it means moving to America.
The LOVE that has been poured out is evident. If it was water the ceiling would be caving in. If it was dust we’d be blind. This, friends, is what love looks like. This, friends, is really what it all comes down to.
Welcoming the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked. That is really all that is required of us; to recognize that we belong to each other.
A friend of mine called me up and told me his wife was in the hospital. These are some of my favorite people. In the same breath he said he wanted to give me some money so I could go shopping for the house, but how could he get it to me. I could see him standing in his living room talking on the phone, wearing his coat, and the car running in the driveway. And I was so moved that he called me first, that even though he is dealing with all his own stuff he cared for this family he has never met, never heard of before Monday.
So I see what my friend was talking about. It is overwhelming. In a waiting sort of way. Because now that our preparations are almost complete, that’s all there is left to do.
A lot of years ago, a lot of our relatives rode on a boat that passed or stopped at an island. On that island stood a woman and she was holding up a torch. She said, Give me your tired, your poor, your hudddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, temptest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Tomorrow a family will make the journey that many of our ancestors made. Fleeing war, or famine, wanting desperately to begin again, not knowing how, probably desperately afraid.
It feels like Christmas Eve. Like there is incense floating down the nave and the choir is settled and singing on the steps of the chancel, after much clucking and shifting and beady eyed menace. It feels like something massive is coming. And it is. The house that we have located and furnished shows how massive this is, because it shows our love.
I only volunteer for things I like to do.
And this has been an absolute pleasure.