85: Safe Harbor

85: Safe Harbor

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America

Safe Harbor

Every house where love abides and friendship is a guest, is surely home, and home, sweet home for there the heart can rest.

~Henry van Dyke

Last fall, I was invited to a monthly meeting with a local agency that resettles refugees in our community. This gathering brings volunteers together to figure out what the refugee families need and how we can support them. My church missions group sent me as an ambassador to gather information and see how we could get involved.

At the first meeting, I discovered that local residents had already provided support to ten families from the Congo and Syria. Local businessmen and civic leaders were providing needed services pro bono. Volunteers were buzzing with enthusiasm as their efforts had already met many of the refugees’ basic needs. A few refugee families shared their stories of tragedy and loss. In broken English, they expressed how thankful they were for help in finding jobs and getting their children enrolled in school.

I left that meeting invigorated by what was happening in this little pocket of my community. Like most Americans, I was aware of the millions of refugee families displaced globally, but hadn’t thought long and hard about the troubles they face on a daily basis. It wasn’t until I was staring into the faces of several beautiful families that I realized how tough this crisis is for so many millions of human beings.

I decided to mention to my boss that one of the Syrian fathers would be a good fit at work. In no time, my employer hired him. In a conversation with my sister, I mentioned a family that needed to be “adopted” and her church got involved.

Then, I decided to organize a dinner and invite these Syrian families over for a meal.

In preparation for the dinner, I found a small market in town that sold Halal meats. One of the employees there, a woman who had emigrated from Syria as a girl twenty years ago, helped me find some of the items I needed. I promised to come back so we could talk again. I was fascinated to learn that we already had a Syrian population in our city.

Driving home to prepare the meal, I realized this would be the first time our guests would be in an American home.

That night, the adults looked tired but happy as they came inside. The children stayed close to their parents at first, possibly fearing the unknown but visibly curious. Communication was minimal. My brother-in-law had downloaded an app to help with translation before they arrived. When the family was there, we quickly realized that technology isn’t always as intuitive as the human touch. We finished our conversations with hand signals, and then gathered in the kitchen and living room for drinks and snacks.

The children followed my nephews outside to play. My nephews picked up the soccer ball to toss around, and in no time the children were laughing and playing together. One of the Syrian dads jumped in and tossed the ball around for a while. Soon my brother-in-law joined in. The smaller children were having a good time riding the scooters and bikes in circles around the deck. The adults seemed to relax, breaking into comfortable smiles, as they enjoyed watching the children play together.

That night, you could hear several rich and lively conversations going on in Arabic, English and a mixed version of both.

Over dinner, my husband and I had a chance to learn more about my Syrian co-worker Ajar and his wife and son. Ajar had been hired by my employer a few months earlier and had already earned a reputation as a hard worker. Now, it was paying off. With smiles, he showed us two free movie tickets he had earned by going above and beyond what was required. He had also saved enough money to buy a car. We learned that his family is Kurdish, one of the largest ethnic minorities in Syria. Because of ISIS, their family was in constant, serious danger. They had seen death firsthand and came close themselves. Ajar expressed how thankful he was to be safe. “America is a very good country.”

After dinner, the kids ran around the house. I couldn’t help but notice the huge grins on their faces every time they ran by.

As I watched these two beautiful families with their young children find comfort in friendship, I realized the relief they felt being here in America, despite all the hardships. They had been forced to live in refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan before arriving here.

That night, I sensed they were beginning to breathe freely as we broke bread together in their new country. The families left with smiles and seemed visibly refreshed by the visit. They shared just how thankful they were for new friends in a foreign land. We decided to host another dinner and continue to share life with them.

Watching my family, friends, co-workers and community get involved has opened my eyes to see that it doesn’t take much to be kind. My employer donated winter jackets to every refugee to get through our cold winters. Co-workers donated unused goods lying around their houses to help some of the families. My sister-in-law has talked of organizing a get-together for the moms. My sister is helping a family with practical needs, like transportation to dentist and doctor appointments. A church in our community donated a storage unit where household items and clothes for the families can be stored until they are needed. I volunteer occasionally to help organize the unit so that it’s easy to find everything.

These are the stories that get passed down to the next generation. One kindness continues to build on the next. America’s beauty lies in the thread of these experiences. When ordinary people choose to strengthen the weary by extending themselves in kindness, a beautiful human encounter happens. When tired, storm-tossed souls can find a safe harbor here, my America is an extraordinary place to live.

~Jen P. Simmons

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