In conjunction with our work on Hope House, Cara Bolton and Julie Stoops have been working to involve our members in ministry to refugees even while the house is being completed. HVBC folks have been involved in several apartment set-ups for incoming refugees, and on Saturday, September 10, 18 people from HVBC and two other churches set up an apartment for 3 refugees. It was a real treat to be part of that effort and see such work and care invested in preparing a new home for those who were beginning life anew in our country.
On Wednesday, September 14, Cara Bolton, Mike Dossett, Pastor Christopher Ingram from Yates Baptist Church, and I went to the airport to pick up the 3 young Afghani men who would be living in the apartment we set up. We arrived around 9:40 pm to discover that the flight had been delayed a bit. We settled in to wait and were soon joined by a gentleman, Hakeem, who was connected to us by a friend of Cara’s. His family came to this country from Afghanistan when he was six, but he knows the language and is very connected to the Afghani community in the Triangle. We enjoyed getting to know him and learning about his family. He also made it clear that he want-ed these young men to know they will be supported as they get settled.
After noting that the plane had landed, we waited to meet our new friends. We had been told to look for men with a certain kind of bag, and after seeing many people exit the secure area, we were relieved to spot the men with the bags. There was hesitation in their eyes as they greeted us, and I couldn’t help but reflect on what it must have felt like to get off a plane in a new country, not really knowing the language. What must it feel like to walk out to greet strangers who had your name on handheld signs, and then be invited to load a church van to drive 30 minutes in the dark to your new home? I can’t fathom all the emotions they must have felt and how strange it must have felt to entrust yourself to a group of people you had never met before.
When we arrived at their apartment in North Durham, the young men were shown around their new home, and they seemed very impressed and pleased by the various toiletries and items provided for them. Though they must have been exhausted from a lengthy journey, they were also very hungry. Some members of Yates Baptist Church had delivered a meal from a Mediterranean Restaurant, and as Mike and Cara began warming the food, Hakeem spoke up to make sure we knew that our guests wouldn’t eat pork. We assured him that we were aware of that, and as the food was brought out, he asked us with a little amazement in his voice, “How did you know what they eat?” We aren’t sure about Hakeem’s religious background, but he really seemed to take notice that this group of strangers had paid attention to details and were providing an appropriate meal for our new friends.
While the food was being heated, we were trying to acquaint them with the details of their apartment and get to know a little about them without over-whelming them. All three men – two nineteen year olds and a twenty-seven year-old – had spent at least two years in a refugee camp in Indonesia. I told them through Hakeem, “This is your house. We are now your guests.” The young man who spoke the most English quickly looked at one member of our group and with a big smile, pointed at one of the chairs and said, “Have a seat.” It felt like a powerful moment of hospitality that was being offered both ways.
At that point, the food was ready, and they sat down at the table we had provided. One man quickly noted that there was too much food on the plates and invited us to join them. These young men who were starting over with only one suitcase of belongings each were offering to share what they had with us. We declined, but Christopher Ingram offered to pray with them and led them in a prayer of blessing for their new beginning. As we prepared to leave, each young man approached us. Anxiety had softened in their eyes, and genuine smiles were present on their tired faces. This time, instead of the hesitant handshake exchanged at the airport, they grasped our hands in both of their hands and spoke words of gratitude that truly touched our hearts.
As we loaded the van to head back to the church, we all acknowledged how blessed we felt to have been able to welcome these three young men into our country. I confess that I had felt very nervous that day and had no idea what to expect or how our guests would respond to us. While there was some awkwardness because of their limitations with English, it felt like we connected and that hospitality built a bridge that allowed us to see these young men not with the labels of nationality, but as new friends and God’s beloved children. I can’t fathom all they are facing in this transition process. They have many details to face and much work to do to become settled and independent in a new place. Let us commit ourselves to pray for God’s provision and care for them, and it is my hope that we as a congregation will continue to invest ourselves in welcoming the stranger as Jesus taught us to do.