by Emily Childs
(Our Refugee Life Ministries Team has been helping our sponsored refugee family settle down in Minneapolis. They recently had the family, and some of their relatives, together with others from our church for dinner.)
On a picturesque August evening in Minneapolis, a group of people from Church of the Cross dined with our newly-welcomed refugee family. While the 15 or so of us waited for “our” refugee–we’ll call her “F”– to arrive, we discussed some cultural tips: genders separate for meals, our guests will be served heaping plates, etc. I’m glad F’s family was running a little behind because it gave us time to learn that we were missing bunches of bananas. In Somali culture, it is customary to have a banana with every meal. Someone ran out and likely had the people at Cub curious as to why he was buying 21 bananas and nothing else; the meal was saved!
With the bananas joining the rest of the incredible food (goat, beef, rice, fruit, and sombusa…trust me, you want to go to Cairo Grill to try this meal), we were all set for F. She and her four children arrived, as well as her mom, cousin, cousin’s child, and niece. They gave us warm hugs and tremendous smiles, and they immediately knew how excited we were to spend the beautiful summer evening breaking bread (or, in this case, eating rice) with them. F’s niece, also from East Africa, is 18 and has been in the US since she was two. She is going to be a senior in high school and, like her brothers before her, is making plans for college and her future. She was baffled to learn that our entire group had only met her auntie this summer or, for some of us, that night. Her curiosity about why we would welcome F and help her get set up in the US–and surprise that we were a church group–led to a good talk with her. It was a joy to discuss the role of hospitable friends in the world of paperwork, acclimating to jobs and new schools for the kids.
The men and kids ate and played outside (with some neighborhood kids joining the fun), while the women learned more about each other around a big table over our delicious meal. After we had filled and refilled our plates, we enjoyed cups of aromatic shaah (Somali tea; my 4-year-old asked for thirds) and chocolate chip cookies for an American addition.
My family left the meal with full hearts. My little girls felt like they had made a new friend in F’s daughter (they had fun with the boys, too), and Scott and I enjoyed getting to know more about people from church and our guests. We learned later that the Somali women left with tears in their eyes!
I joined the standing ovation for the Refugee team as they marched in the Opening Ceremonies later that night. I’m grateful that my family and our church are invested in loving and praying for refugees and can cheer for that team with a–teeny-tiny–deeper sense of understanding of how hard they’ve fought to be welcomed somewhere.