Even though I consider myself to be a refugee champion and even though we had the supplies on hand to do this delivery, I almost declined this request.
A quick check of the calendar revealed three youth ministry evening events this week. To be honest, I didn't want to add another night out – for my students or I.
But then I had a conversation with a student struggling to serve. She's passionate about justice and in particular, about refugees, but struggles because sometimes she finds service so utterly inconvenient.
Her words convicted me that making this delivery was important.
Rather than add another evening out, I ditched the discussion I was planning for our weekly gathering (even though I was very excited about it!) and chose instead to have our youth ministry deliver this Welcome Pack together during our regular meeting time.
So last night, we loaded up cars with supplies and people and headed to the family's apartment, or rather to the relative's apartment where this family is staying until their own apartment is ready.
We marched up three decrepit flights of stairs and two of my students knocked on the door, explaining who we were and what we we were doing. We then headed back down to the cars and grabbed all the supplies – dishes, pots and pans, bedding, toiletries, light bulbs, and basic food staples – everything you need to fill an apartment except the furniture, which the resettlement agency provides.
We trucked back up the three flights of stairs, removed our shoes, and crammed into the tiny apartment. We piled the supplies into the middle of the living room and then sat down – anywhere and everywhere - as the family frantically ran to get more chairs.
Arjun, the dad of the newly arrived refugee family, introduced himself. Then his elderly father, who'd come to America three years earlier, explained in broken English that Arjun's English was not good. He then proceeded to go around the room, shake everyone's hand, and tell us each his name, Rad. Despite Rad's own rudimentary English, what impressed me about him was his willingness to use it. Through a combination of hand motions and repetition, the 16 of us proceeded to ever so slowly piece together what he was trying to tell us.
Meanwhile, another family member offered us tea while exclaiming, “We've never had this many people in our apartment!”
Immediately, I felt guilty for having brought so many people to her house, for imposing on a family who clearly didn't have much.
As she left to get tea, another family member – also resettled three years ago – came in and sat with us. Rad proudly told us this young person, Reuben, spoke English the best out of everyone.
And he did.
Eventually, he pointed at a guitar and asked if anyone could play. My students passed the guitar to my husband, who started strumming Mighty to Save, a song we sang a few weeks ago at Youth Sunday.
Before long, students joined in singing, self-consciously at first, until they realized Rad, the elderly patriarch of this extended family, was clapping along with us. Soon, the rest of his family was too, though they seemed to have multiplied before our very eyes.
Next to me, I heard Reuben's thick accent as he sang along loudly:
Our God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save.
My eyes filled with tears as I thought about what these song lyrics must mean to a refugee who knew God was “mighty to save” because he'd been saved by God when he and his family fled their country.
We finished the song and my husband passed the guitar to Reuben, who led us in another praise song before handing it off to Amith, his newly arrived cousin, who then proceeded to sing a lively Nepali song about the moon.
Eventually, Amith's mom sang another song in Nepali. This woman, who knew no English, put herself out there, belting the words out to this song. She wasn't always in tune but it was nevertheless, beautiful, especially when we learned the words she sang meant “Welcome into Christ.”
By then, the tea was ready and the family proceeded to serve it, along with some food, to us.
Over the next few minutes, we ate, drank, and laughed along with this family.
Eventually, we had to leave. On the way back to the church, the excitement in my car was palpable as students wrestled with what they'd seen and experienced.
As I drove, I reflected on how I'd almost said “no” to this delivery because it had come at such an inopportune time.
To think of all we would have missed.
No discussion I ever could have facilitated would have had more of an impact on my students than meeting this family, being shown extravagant hospitality, and worshipping with them in two different languages.