77: How Family Comes to Be

77: How Family Comes to Be

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

How Family Comes to Be

Families don’t have to match. You don’t have to look like someone else to love them.

~Leigh Anne Tuohy

My friend Kim called to tell me that she had ten days to get ready to add two teenage brothers to her family. Kim was already a foster mother to two other boys — unaccompanied minors seeking asylum from war-torn countries — child refugees. They arrive in America without parents, not knowing the language, having endured unspeakable trauma and heartache.

Kim is white. Her boys are African. Her brother is Filipino. Her nieces are a beautiful blend of Filipino and Mexican American.

Kim and I were roommates when she read the book that started her down this path. Mary Pipher’s The Middle of Everywhere rocked her world. Being the good roommate and nosy friend that I was, I picked up the book to see what all the fuss was about. In it, Pipher tells of her friendship with a family of refugees who had been resettled in the Midwest. She speaks of how she helped them to navigate certain aspects of life in the States that resettlement agencies had neglected to include in their orientation. Imagine residing in a country where you don’t know the language or the culture and having to determine which pieces of mail are important (bills, jury summons, welfare checks, etc.) and which are junk (credit card applications, sweepstakes entry forms, political mailers, etc.).

When I turned the final page of the book, I had a renewed appreciation for how difficult it would be to navigate life in a foreign culture. I honestly hadn’t thought much about refugees. Reading that book opened my eyes to a population and a struggle I’d never personally encountered. For Kim, it did much more.

Not long after we read The Middle of Everywhere, Kim moved back to her home state. Within a few months she was volunteering to help a refugee woman practice her English. A couple of years later, Kim was leading the ministry to refugees at her church. Then she became licensed as a foster parent. Somewhere along the way she heard about the unaccompanied refugee minor program. It wasn’t long before Kim’s family began to form.

Jacob is her oldest. He was born in the Congo and arrived in the U.S. via a refugee camp in Rwanda. He is a bright young man who works hard, is good with his hands, and played varsity soccer at his high school. Jacob doesn’t even have to say charming things; his smile is charming enough to convince you to do anything he wants you to do. One of my favorite stories about his adjustment to American living centers around Daylight Savings Time. The morning after clocks “fell back”, Jacob headed out the door for school. It was still dark. He shook his fist at the sky and said, “America be crazy!”

A year later, Samuel arrived. He was in elementary school at the time and arrived by way of a refugee camp in Mozambique. He, too, was born in the Congo, but he and Jacob were from different tribes so they spoke different languages. Samuel learned English very quickly, but he also managed to communicate well by acting things out while he was learning. An observant little guy, one of my favorite quotes from him is, “In Africa, food comes from trees. In America, food comes from boxes.”

Next Saturday there will be two more members added to the family, biological brothers from the other side of Africa, who will learn the quirks of living in America. They will learn about Daylight Savings Time and household pets, pre-packaged meat and pizza delivery, birthday cakes and American football, snow and camping. People from different parts of the world who are now strangers will share a roof, a bathroom, a dinner table, and become a family.

There are places in the world where Kim’s family wouldn’t exist, where her family’s story wouldn’t be possible. There are countries where Kim would have never learned to read simply because she is a female, where Mary Pipher’s book would have never been written because it mentions weaknesses in our government, where orphanages stand in the place of foster homes, and where refugees are not welcome. But Kim lives in America, where people like her, in past generations, have created a society in which she can make a difference for generations to come.

~Tiffany Marshall

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