Thursday has dawned with warmth and rain here in the Midwest. Nothing in comparison to what friends and family are facing along the southeast coast of the United States. Here's a prayer we sent to all of our J.S. Paluch bulletin parishes yesterday:
Let us pray.
As hurricane Matthew approaches,
may we, our loved ones, our homes, our community, and all those along the East Coast
be protected from the storm and spared from all harm.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Last evening, we welcomed a refugee family from Afghanistan to the United States through WLP's collaboration with Exodus World Service. Three of us arrived at about 5:00 P.M. with three cars filled with the household items we had collected to help this new family set up an apartment. Unfortunately, there was no apartment ready for them, so a motel stay was arranged for them until an apartment is found, typically within a week. We took the time as we awaited their arrival to deliver the items to their motel room.
We had collected everything needed for the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms, as well as non-perishable food items, tools, toiletries, cleaning supplies, supplies for laundering clothes, and some other items, like paintings and decorative items, to help them make their apartment into a home.
The level of anxious anticipation in our hearts was overwhelming. All we knew was that our family consisted of a set of parents and their 22 year-old daughter. They had flown yesterday from Delhi, India and they did speak some English.
We waited in the parking lot and when the van transporting them from the airport pulled into the parking lot, my heart swelled with anticipation.
Never in my life will I ever be able to erase the memory of the smiles on the faces of our three new family members. The Dad, a medical doctor, the Mom, a mid-wife, and their daughter all had grins from ear to ear. They had been traveling for over forty-eight hours in order to fulfill a dream that apparently had taken years to materialize. Michele vonEbers, WLP's Rights and Permissions Manager, was the catalyst for the entire project and she inspired all of us here in our efforts to reach out to help this refugee family. She held a vase of flowers and when she gave them to the Mom, the woman's face was filled with sheer delight. The Mom clutched the flowers to her chest and never let them go until we were settled into their motel room, where she gently placed the vase on the window sill. Here we are, Michele, Raquel Hernandez, WLP's Customer Relations Manager, and I, with our new arrivals.
This family's gratitude was a gratitude unlike anything I had ever witnessed. They arrived with several large suitcases and a few backpacks. My heart was so moved as I realized that this is pretty much all they had in the world. I thought of my townhome, filled with so much, and I felt that what we had done for this newly arrived family, was so small compared to what we all treasure as possessions that we take advantage of every day.
When we hoisted all their belongings to their motel room, the folks from Exodus explained that everything they saw in their motel room—all the items we had been collecting over the past few months—were gifts from the people who worked at our company, a Catholic publishing company. Again, the look of gratitude on their faces just took our breath away. The Dad, whose English-language skills were quite good, but with a heavy Afghan accent, explained to us that when they left Afghanistan four years ago and moved to Delhi, they had converted to Christianity. He had helped translate the Bible into Pashto, which is a member of the southeastern Iranian branch of Indo-Iranian languages spoken in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. He also told us that he had written and translated four book of original poetry. This Dad was a talker, let me tell you! His enthusiasm and excitement, which had to have so much to do with the fact that they had landed in their new home after so many years, was effusive. I stood there, wondering what their lives must have been like in Afghanistan, what hardships they had endured over the time that they fled their country, the many difficulties and challenges they faced as they applied for refugee status in the United States, and the discrimination they must have experienced through all of this. The Mom just smiled. The daughter looked quite overwhelmed. I will never forget the largeness of her eyes as all of this newness began to settle in.
We were able to point out some of the items we had brought. When we showed them an original painting that WLP's Alan Hommerding's late Mom had painted, their eyes lit up. We told them that we brought this painting for the wall of their apartment, to make it feel more like home. Emotions got the best of me when the Dad smiled and said, "It is just like Afghanistan; it is so beautiful! Thank, you, thank you!" Here's a photo I took.
We then said our farewells and were thanked with hugs and handshakes all around. The staff remained to help orient the family to the motel and to planning the many meetings that will unfold over the next several days, weeks, and months, as they help the family get settled in their new surroundings.
When we walked out of the motel room and began to walk down the corridor, I turned and looked at Michele, Raquel, and our case worker from Exodus, and simply said, with my voice choked with emotion, "Folks, that was God's work." Didn't need to say any more.
It will be a challenging road ahead for our new family who was welcomed to American last night. We will do our best to keep connected with them and to ease their transition in whatever ways we can.
There is a way out of the frustration we all feel about those who are driven from their homes due to war, violence, and unspeakable terror. I felt that last night was one of those ways, and for that I will always be grateful to Michele vonEbers and a group of people I am privileged to work with and lead here at World Library Publications.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.