Today, I heard the stories of a homeless woman and a teenage refugee boy.
The boy left home when he was 10 years old to go to a refugee camp eight hours from his home. Unfortunately, he didn’t go because his home or his village were threatened. He went because his aunt, who lived in the camp, wasn’t getting enough food to eat – and she knew that if a child was living with her she would get a larger food ration. So she asked her brother, the father of 12 children, if any of them wanted to come live with her. And the 10 year old, the 8th child, said he would go because he had only been in a car once before in his life, and this would give him another chance to ride in a car.
He lived in that camp, in poor housing, with sub-par food and limited water, for five years. When he was 15, his aunt won the “immigration lottery” and was given a ticket to freedom – America! His brothers and sisters came to say good-bye to him, but his mother was sick and his father had to stay back to take care of her, so they weren’t able to see him off.
So now he lives in Iowa, going to high school, working at the local grocery store, talking with his parents once only every few months because of the poor reception they have on their farm. He recently sent money home to his dad so he could buy two more cows.
And he wants to be an OB-GYN because his mom never had a doctor around to help her with her home births.
The woman decided to leave a toxic family environment, take her baby and the $150 she had from her last paycheck, and drive 200 miles to a new city to start all over.
She says “Father Dan” at the shelter she lives in laughs at her for driving so far to become homeless in a new city, but it was all worth it to her to leave behind the people who constantly dragged her down. She only is allowed 30 days at the shelter, and she has a lot to accomplish.
Unfortunately, applying for government assistance for daycare so that she can look for a job has been complicated by the fact that she doesn’t have an address. And getting her son into a daycare is complicated by the fact that he hadn’t had his immunization shots yet.
But the shots are taken care of now, and she found a daycare with an opening. She is hopeful that she will be able to find a daytime job somewhere near her son’s daycare… and then a home for the two of them.
I didn’t just hear these stories from anyone – I heard them from them. From their own mouths. And although I gave you a little picture into their lives through my words, I can promise you that looking into their eyes as they told their stories was a far more powerful experience than reading them on a page.
Two plucky people with courage in the face of hardship. Their bravery inspired me. Instead of becoming hardened or bitter, they have made choices towards health and helpfulness and wholeness.
As I sift through what I heard today, I am struck by this thought: although I have been given more than I need – I dare not use that blessing as a shield to guard me from the reality of the deep pain or great needs that many others are experiencing. I cannot pretend that just because I am comfortable, that all is right in the world.
I need these stories – and the people behind them – to keep me grounded in reality and reminded that my aim as a follower of Christ is not to gain comfort and convenience. My aim is to follow His example of sacrificial compassion and service – and to become a tool He can use in redeeming and restoring all of our stories into His Big Story!
For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’