stepping out of my bubble

earlier this month we had some friends over.  these friends hold a special place in my heart.  they have only been in this country for about 6-7 months.  they came here to seek refuge.  to rebuild. to start a new life.

about a year ago, our church had a flier posted about an opportunity to become a mentor for refugee families coming into the cleveland area. almost immediately i knew that i wanted to part of it.  in the summer, i went to a mentor training class (along with two other friends) hosted by building hope in the city and catholic charites (one of the largest resettlement agencies in northern ohio).  this was the first step in helping these families.

the mentor training class was pretty amazing.  there was a lot of information presented, which made me realize that i really didn't know a whole lot about refugee families.  i mean, i know but i don't know (does that make sense?).  i knew they had to endure a lot.  i knew that they couldn't go back home to their own country because of danger.  i knew that for some, there had been traumatic experiences they had to go through.  but i didn't really have a sense of just how much they had to endure.  i didn't know specifically, all the challenges they had to face as refugees even when they have been resettled to another country.  did you know that even if a family is resettled out of the camp to another country that they had to take out a travel loan in order to get to their final destination?  these are men, women, children, babies...they have lost their homes, they have lost their sense of security, they have lost their future, they have experienced loss and pain...they have nothing left but to look ahead.

as a mentor, we would be matched with a family that have been resettled in the cleveland area in the past 90 or so days.  more than likely, they know little to no english.  they come here with nothing, because there is no time to think about taking anything of "value" when thinking about your own and your family's safety.  as a mentor, we were there to support them and help them with the transition into the united states.  basic things that we take for granted are new to many of the families (like operating a stove, fire safety, etc.).  i remember thinking during the training class, "how in the world is all this going to work with a new baby on the way?  plus, we only have one car.  do we even have enough time for it?"  i debated whether or not to pull out of my commitment to mentor, because thinking about how everything was going to work out was so overwhelming. and quite frankly, it made me a uncomfortable and anxious.  but God made it clear that i should continue.  so i did.  and i'm so glad i listened.

we met our family in september (i think...details for dates are a little foggy).  there was a translator and an employee from catholic charities present along with our refugee family.  it was a family of 7.  a mom, dad, 3 kids, grandmother and dad's brother.  they were refugees from the country of bhutan who had been living in a camp in nepal for the last 20 years.  20. years.  their oldest daughter was around ty's age, which meant all their kids had never known anything apart from camp life.  i remember at one point, i fought back the urge to cry.  if it was hard for me thinking about what they had to go through to get here, i don't know what it must truly feel like for them.  i just wanted to hug them.

fast forward to the present.

the g. family seem like they've transitioned quite well.  they actually have family here, who came to the area from one of the camps 4 years ago.  i'm sure having other family members to connect with has made a huge difference in their transition.

we (myself and two other friends and sometimes emma) visit them once a week at their home. grandma cooks us dinner each time.  sometimes we help the kids with homework.  sometimes we help with their mail and other paperwork.  our goal right now is to try and take them out more often (since they don't have a car).  nothing fancy, but more practical outings like libraries, stores, etc.

we went on a family outing downtown.  there were escalator and elevator rides, a stroll by lake erie and watching airplanes go by at the airport.  there were definitely a lot of learning opportunities.

and finally, they came to our house for a christmas/new year celebration.  i can't tell you how excited i was to have them come!  after hosting us and feeding us every week in their home, it was our turn to host them.

we left the tree up, and put more presents under the tree for them to open. we shared a meal together, and served an indonesian dish of goat curry. for dessert, we decided to introduce something a little new: crepes with berries and nutella.  it went over quite well.  grandma was a bit suspicious of the crepes but thoroughly enjoyed the blueberries and raspberries.  it was a bit challenging to find a meal that was culturally appropriate and not too foreign to their taste buds, but it seemed to go over quite well.

we had a great time, and it still warms my heart thinking about that day.  there were plenty of smiles and laughter and new learning experiences.  i want them to come over again!  it was seriously awesome.

photo credit: sherrie tamunday.
despite what this family has gone through, they keep smiling through it all.  despite all the sacrifices they have made to get to where they are at this point, they don't complain.  they are strong, hard-working people with generous hearts.  they help keep me grounded. humble. they help remind me to appreciate all the amazing luxuries we have in this country, and to redefine the things in my life that i truly need.

opportunities abound to help your neighbors.  it doesn't have to be a refugee family.  i know i could have easily looked the other way, and convinced myself that having a new baby would have been a valid excuse to back out of helping.  i mean how would i even have time?  the baby would need my full attention, plus 3 other kids to tend to.  but how could i ignore God's leading?  helping someone out shouldn't be based on how convenient it is for you.  when you know someone needs help, then help.  it shouldn't be about reciprocity.  sometimes that may mean stepping out of your comfort zone.  and sometimes it means the person you help doesn't ever return the favor.

help with compassion in your heart and expect nothing in return. but i guess that's not really true.  because you will get something: joy, happiness, new relationships, and a transformed heart.


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