by Natalie Nichols
(Our Refugee Life Ministries Team has been helping our sponsored refugee family settle down in Minneapolis. We only refer to the mother by her first initial, “F”, in these blogs to respect concerns for privacy.)
This summer, as many people already know, our church has been blessed with the incredible opportunity to host a refugee family (a single mother and her four children) and assist them in settling into life in America.
On August 27, “F” returned the favor. She invited members of the refugee team from Cross over for dinner at her newly furnished apartment. We were immediately greeted with warm welcomes, hugs, and smiles, and invited into the living room to eat and keep company with one another.
From the moment they met at the first welcome dinner, “F’s” children and the children from Church of the Cross became fast friends. All night was spent running and chasing each other at high speeds around the apartment, with lots of loud and fun-sounding play happening back in the children’s room.
“F” began by serving us food, and she had a feast waiting for us! Piles of food lay on the tables (far more than the nine of us could eat), with lots of rice, meat, bananas, salad, and burr, a delicious type of Somalian bread. As soon as we finished our platefuls, “F” continued to gesture that we should eat more, until we had to wave her away because we were so full of her delicious food. At the end of the night, she sent each person home with a heaping plate full of leftovers, which was an extremely sweet gesture.
Throughout the night, relatives of “F” dropped by her apartment to support her, meet us, and hang out with her, and it was surprising how many people just kept coming! As soon as one batch of sisters, aunts, cousins, or nieces and nephews had left, it seemed, another group appeared! All were as friendly and kind as “F”, and the children once again had no problem getting along.
“F’s” generosity was the most surprising thing about the evening to me. It seemed that she just continued giving, more and more, with everything she offered us, from the heaping piles of food on the table, to repeatedly telling a member of our team that she wanted to buy curtains for her, or just being a pair of open arms for the youngest member of our team (age four) to run into and hug. Many people would expect someone who had just moved to America to be unwilling to give anything, and needing to benefit from other people’s generosity first, but “F” wanted to give us as much as she possibly could.
My mom and I brought along a family friend who spoke Arabic, and he was willing to continually translate the conversation for us. He was a valuable asset to our team, making it easier for us to converse with “F”, but as I was reflecting the day after, I came to the conclusion that I think the most valuable member of our team is the four-year old. She brought the Kingdom into “F’s” apartment on Saturday night, not only through easily getting along with her children, but also in the way she treated “F”. I don’t know if she has any concept of not speaking the same language as “F”, of completely different cultures and customs in Somalia, but she does know how to love. The sweetest moments, and I think the moments that “F” felt closest to us came when the four-year old raced into the living room from where she had been playing and rushed directly into “F’s” open arms and started talking to her. She just chattered away, telling “F” about everything that was happening, or whatever had just happened while playing, or to ask a question or ask for something. The four-year old had no hesitation in asking or telling her anything, or of warmly welcoming her with big hugs and looking to her when she needed comfort. It made me wish we could all see the world as a four-year-old and be as welcoming and make someone feel as needed, loved, and important as she made “F” feel.
After dinner, with the arrival of more relatives, “F” treated us all to some delicious chai tea, and tried to teach us a few Somalian phrases (some of us weren’t as adept at picking them up, but I tried my best!) and repeatedly thanked us for welcoming her into the United States, helping her adapt and get settled, and for being her friends. She couldn’t seem to tell us enough times how grateful she was for us and for our love.
I can’t return the sentiment to her enough either. I’m so grateful to have felt her generosity, and to have spent more time in her company. The wonderful thing about this ministry is that we’re not just helping a family. We’re getting to develop a beautiful relationship that unites two groups of people from very different backgrounds and cultures into a strong friendship. It’s easy to see the Kingdom and the love of God at work here, and it’s a beautiful thing.