Today I went to our local refugee center to find out how I can help. There is no way I can describe the gratitude written all over the directors face. I get the impression that they don’t have many people volunteering to help there, especially now, in the wake of the Paris attacks and all the fear that has been generated. But I’d like to tell you something about that fear:
Americans aren’t the only ones who feel it.
The refugees also feel it. A few weeks ago, they gathered together to have lunch at a local church and the police had to guard them, because someone called a bomb threat in . They kept asking “are we safe? Will we be safe?” They were terrified. Of us.
I heard a story about a nine year old little girl who, after being threatened, bullied and called names like “terrorist” and “killer” by her peers at school, came home and told her mother “We can’t stay here, we need to go back to Syria and die.*” Nine years old.
When I left the refugee center, it was with a heavy, hurting heart. My children and I ran our errands and as we were leaving a store, we saw a Muslim family walking in and I felt a tug in my heart. I grabbed the kids, went back in and approached the family asking “do you speak English?” The mother gestured to her daughter, roughly nine years old, indicating that she understood. I put my hands on that little girl’s arms, looked her in the eye and said: “I want you to know I’m glad your here. I’m so glad you’re here.” The expression on her face was indescribable. Her gratitude was tangible. I gave her some money and then looked her mother in the eye and repeated myself. I smiled at them both and turned to leave. Just before walking out the door, I looked back and saw the little girl watching me. I blew her a kiss and she smiled. The whole world was in that smile. Her father then looked at me and I blew him a kiss, too. He raised his hand in acknowledgement. It was one of the most beautiful moments in my life.
Afterward, we had more errands to run and I made it a point to approach every Muslim person I saw to tell them I was thankful they were here. Once more, I was touched by their gratitude. In one case, two older women were shopping together and couldn’t understand what I was trying to say. I kissed my hand and pressed it to the first woman’s face, but she still didn’t understand. She asked “help? You need help?” I shook my head, and then I put my arms around the second woman in an embrace. She froze for a moment, but when I pulled away, I saw surprise and recognition in her eyes. She grabbed my hand and said “THANK YOU! THANK YOU!” I smiled and said again: “I’m so glad you’re here.” Later, when we ran in to her again, she blew me a kiss.
How often as they go about their day are these refugees subjected to hate and criticism by the people in my city? How often are they scowled at, frowned upon, even yelled at? That simple act of recognition, the simple act of saying to someone “I see you. You are not anonymous. You are not hated. You are loved” … It means the world.
We refer to the refugees collectively as “they.” We talk about what “they” might do. But we don’t know them. We don’t know their stories. We don’t know their wounds and their hurts, their hopes or their dreams. Today, I looked “them” in the eye and I saw a hurting people. I am giving myself to this cause. I am giving myself to the Muslim people. As of this moment, I will do whatever I need to do, whatever Jesus asks me to do, whatever I can do to help them.
If you are in or near Bowling Green and would like to do the same, please contact me. Rina[at]RinaMarie[dot]com.
*(I cannot remember which country this little girl was from, so I used Syria as a general reference.)