Today the sacred touched the mundane and simple obedience was rewarded by a glimpse of the loving care our God places into the most common of our endeavors. Today the kids and I experienced a divine encounter we didn’t expect when we got up this morning.
A couple of weeks ago we signed up as volunteers with Lutheran Services of the Carolinas to help refugee families adjust to their new life in the USA. Today we received our first assignment. We met with other volunteers at the offices of LSC downtown and were given instructions to pick up our clients and take them to the Department of Social Services to set them up with temporary food stamps.
I confess that I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect.
When I was given the paperwork for my clients and their address I saw that I would transport two people and I noticed that one of them was a female born on February 2006. My Isabel’s birthday is January 2006. There was no other identifying information.
I told Isabel and Noah we would pick up a girl around their age, who probably did not speak English, but to try to make her feel welcome with smiles and gestures. Isabel was excited at the idea of a new friend, but nervous about the possible communication issues.
When we arrived at the apartment complex and knocked on the door, it was opened immediately by a vivacious 10-year old girl, with big brown eyes, who spoke perfect English and began chatting away as soon as she saw us. She told us they were from Iran and I had to smile. Not two hours before our morning’s geography lesson had been about that very area of the world, which meant my kids knew exactly where Iran is! As we studied the countries, we talked about the conflicts going on over there in preparation for what we would do later today. We talked about why people choose to leave everything they know to come, as refugees, to a brand new country, with a brand new culture and a brand new language (I’ve been there so trust me when I tell you it is one of the hardest experiences of your life).
And here was a family who put flesh and bones to our conversation!
My daughter and this little girl hit it off in the back seat and talked all the way to our destination. Her father and grandmother also came. Dad spoke English well, so he and I chatted on the ride. He told me they had arrived just yesterday. He had spent the last two years in Indonesia waiting for his vetting to clear so he could get his visa. While in Indonesia he could not work, drive, or send his daughter to school so the little girl was sent to Malaysia to continue her education.
He said they came to make a new life for him, his mom, and his daughter here where they can be safe. He kept asking when and how he could get a working permit so he could begin to work. He’s being offered free food stamps, free medical care, and free services for a certain period of time and yet all he wants to do is to be self-sufficient and find a job to support his family. I asked him what kind of work he wants to find and he said, “Anything! I can’t be picky. I just need to work.” He told me he is a Jehovah’s Witness so he was a minority in his home country, which was extra difficult.
He told me so many other things about a life I cannot even imagine, living my own comfortable one.
When we left them, the kids and I talked about them all the way home. They asked me a million questions and Isabel said, “I hope my new friend stays here for a long time so she can be safe and happy.” Tears filled my eyes.
I realize we cannot save all the people suffering, all over the world. I understand that. But, like the story of the starfish which the man kept throwing into the sea one at the time, for that “one” starfish it makes all the difference in the world.
There were five volunteers this morning. All of the other volunteers transported a single adult. The kids and I were the only ones who received a family as our charge. As I watched my kids play with their new friend in the middle of the DSS office, I asked our coordinator if he assigned them to us because of the girls being the same age and he told me he didn’t even notice the ages of the clients. He just passed out the papers at random. The whole thing was technically pure “coincidence” if you want to call it that.
I call it grace.