Last evening, three of us from WLP, Michele, Jennifer and I, went to visit our refugee family, who several weeks ago were settled in an apartment here in Chicago.
When we first met this family of three, they had just arrived in the United States and they radiated such joy and happiness. None of us knew what they had lived through before fleeing Afghanistan, nor what their lives had been like in India the past four years as they awaited their eventual approval to become refugees in the United States.
Last night Michele brought a long woolen cape for the mom, as well as two pairs of gloves and a scarf. Despite the fact that it was in the 40's here and raining, these folks were very lightly clad and wore open-toed shoes and sandals. You would not have believed the look of sheer delight on both the mom's and dad's faces when they saw the coat. Michele helped her put the cape on and it fit perfectly. It was as if we had given her the world.
The dad told us that he had been to the hospital that day and received four vaccinations. Each member of the family will need at least ten shots. Whatever shots he received that day caused him to become extremely cold, so he was wrapped up in a blanket the entire time we were there. And I noticed it was one of the blankets that WLP had provided for the family.
He then began to talk with us about how different the United States is. He told us that where they lived in India shopkeepers, drivers, attendants at the zoo all charged them twice what they charged the Indians. They had lived, for four years, in a small room, with a curtain dividing the room in half. Their current apartment, they told us, is just way too big for them; they are just not used to such large living quarters. He talked about meeting a local pastor, "Pastor Bob," in a store just by chance. Pastor Bob's son was holding an iron that they were about to purchase and our dad asked where he might find one to buy. Pastor Bob asked if he needed an iron and paid for an iron for our dad. They have since become connected and our family is apparently connected to this Christian community now.
Once he had returned from the hospital that afternoon, he told us, he and his wife had gotten into an argument. She was complaining that she had no coat and it was so cold outside. He looked right at us and said that he prayed to God for a coat for his wife and that, because of us, God had answered his prayer. I don't know how else to describe what I saw emanating from these peoples' eyes but to say that it is the light of faith, hope, and love.
He told us that he is deathly afraid of drinking the water from the tap here in the United States. They had been spending precious money to purchase bottled water. We explained where the water came from in Chicago (Lake Michigan) and how it gets cleaned and purified and that we all drink it freely and without any concern. He seemed very relieved.
Folks, all of what we experienced last night was about the most basic stuff of life, like clothing, water, bread, meat, shoes, umbrellas, an iron.
When we asked about their daughter, who had decided not to come out of her room at all, a look I can only describe as a distant sadness came over the Dad's face. He told us he couldn't tell us the whole story, but that something had happened with his daughter and the Taliban and that she is affected at least twice a day. She keeps asking to be brought into the city, to see downtown Chicago.
For me, this was so much of what we hear on the news staring us right in the face. These were real flesh and blood people. Michele told them that we were all brothers and sisters. There was such a part of me that felt so helpless.
So, Michele, Jennifer and I decided that we need to meet this morning to talk about next steps. The dad is already talking about taking courses here (he was a physician in Afghanistan) to be able to be certified to do some simple medical or technical procedures like administering electrocardiograms or ultrasounds. We know that they are being helped by at least two other organizations. There is much that we here at WLP cannot do for them, but I am haunted by the timeliness of what Pope Francis said in Saint Peter's Square just yesterday. "Like so many committed Christians who have gone before us, such as Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, we need to find generous and creative ways of meeting their immediate needs."
That's what we are pledging to do here.
The flowers Michele had given this family on the night of their arrival in the United States still stood in the vase. They are now all brown and withered. I refuse to let our welcome wither and fade. So much to do.
When we left them last night we pledged prayers for one another. I looked at dad and mom and all I could say was "God is good." "Yes, yes, God is good," he replied.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.