It started simply enough. The refugee agency asked Nancy and me if we would take 16-year-old Najah to piano lessons once a week. The family lives 10 miles from our home but it was only a small challenge.
As we drove Najah to and from the lessons each week, things started to happen. We learned that the family had been driven from Syria by the war and spent a dozen years as unwelcome refugees in Jordan. We learned that they arrived in Cache County last February having never seen snow before. (“I don’t like the cold,” said Najah.) We discovered that Mohamed’s hard-labor job is damaging his back. We learned that the three sons are amazing soccer players. We learned that the mother’s mother is still in Syria and can’t be reached because of destroyed infrastructure in Syria and the older woman’s dementia. Yet this earnest mother is so grateful for Nancy’s ministering that she hugs her with all her heart every time we visit.
One of the most important things we learned is that a young person can experience a decade of harsh treatment and still be relentlessly cheerful. Najah has made friends at school, attended her first birthday party ever, and has plans to be a judge and a nurse. Every time we drive her to piano lessons, she asks us to teach her new words to add to her English vocabulary.
We fell in love with this sweet family.
Last week, we posted on Nextdoor that, if anyone had an old desk and chair, the family could use them.
This week, Nancy invited Fadia to come to our house to learn to make cookies. The two were working busily in the kitchen when a good neighbor stopped by. He said that he didn’t have a desk, but he handed her a crisp $100 bill. Fadia was bewildered. And she speaks almost no English. Nancy tried to explain to her why a complete stranger was giving her $100. She was confused and grateful.
The neighbor had barely left when another person came offering a brand-new desk and chair. When he learned that there were more children, he rounded up a second desk and chair and delivered them to their home.
Another person provided a desk lamp.
A friend of Najah’s brought the family a Christmas tree which they gratefully received in spite of their Muslim faith.
When Mohamed had raised enough money to buy a used, high-mileage van, he asked me to go with him to the gas station to show him how American fueling works. It felt like an honor that he asked me.
Fadia is an amazing cook. We love her hummus. Her baklava is the best we have ever had. We savor her lentil soup. Every time we bring Najah home from piano lessons, Fadia has a treat for us. She talks of starting a restaurant, yet we worry about the complications in starting such a business. We suggested that she prepare some of her favorite dishes and bring them to our house and we invite neighbors to come sample them and make orders.
Because of Nancy’s compassionate soul, we have worked with refugee families several times before. It is always deeply satisfying and confoundingly complicated. How do they find good work when they speak little English? How do they get transportation? There are a thousand complications in adapting to a foreign culture.
Yet we have a vision. What if every LDS stake in the United States sponsored a refugee family? What if a family in the stake was appointed to organize the effort and drew on the expertise in employment, housing, language, and caring of the whole stake? What if we actually became a Zion people?
In April 2016, Elder Kearon taught us about refugees.
The Savior knows how it feels to be a refugee—He was one. As a young child, Jesus and His family fled to Egypt to escape the murderous swords of Herod. And at various points in His ministry, Jesus found Himself threatened and His life in danger, ultimately submitting to the designs of evil men who had plotted His death. Perhaps, then, it is all the more remarkable to us that He repeatedly taught us to love one another, to love as He loves, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Truly, “pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” and to “look to the poor and the needy, and administer to their relief that they shall not suffer.”
Please watch this excerpt lasting less than two minutes, from Elder Kearon’s talk about refugees. He makes the statement, “Being a refugee does not define them, but our response will help define us.” Ask yourself what God would have you do to care for His children who have been driven from their homes.
God is calling us to care for His children. Look around. You may already know where He will have you serve. Or call a local refugee agency.