The moment is surreal. After seven months of organization, a few members of our parish refugee sponsorship committee and I huddle in the arrivals area of the airport. When I spy our family at the top of the escalator, I want to shout out, Welcome! Instead, I smile and wave, and my heart swells with the gift of a vision realized. I also think of the contrast between all the goodwill and effort that have made this event happen, and the darkness of the Trump acceptance speech the night before.
On January 31, 2016, our committee informed our congregation that the refugee project was a go. We expressed to them that we needed money and that, should they care to help, we had placed envelopes in the vestibule of the church. Three months later, our congregation had given almost twenty thousand dollars. In April, two hundred people, many from the larger community, attended a steak night that added almost three thousand dollars more. Imagine. We asked for donations, and we were overwhelmed.
At the same time, we requested help with household furniture and items. Once again, the parishioners responded. Items poured in—a sectional, linens, a desk, stereo systems, TVs and stands, area rugs, whatever we needed. Our purchases were limited to incidentals and pillows. One day, I found a bag of new towels destined for our refugee family by our front door. Our furnishings coordinator was inundated with phone calls. Could you use a vanity? What about a sofa bed? A committee member moving away donated many of her furnishings. One Sunday, we informed the congregation that the home we had rented for our family was completely furnished. Although it wasn’t necessary, we added, we could use a lawn mower, a small deep freeze, and two youth bicycles. Within twenty-four hours, we had all those items. People just kept giving!
At the end of May, we received news that our family was on its way. Time to rent a home. The landlord, a member of our parish, cut the committee a deal on the rent. When he heard that one of the members was a young adult, he decided to dry-wall the basement and build an extra bedroom. He installed a new water heater, replaced the eaves troughs, changed two basement windows, painted the main floor and the basement, recaulked the bathtub, and changed the faucet and shower pull. What a transformation!
Calls to the committee for cleaning and installation went out. A cleaning crew was already in full swing when I arrived at the appointed time on day one. Some cleaned windows, others freshened up kitchen cabinets, revived the wood floors, and dug into the heating grates with toothbrushes. A week later, for day 2, more than fifteen people with three trucks among them transformed the house into a home. Some loaded and unloaded furniture. Others configured the rooms, installed curtains, organized the kitchen and the laundry room, made beds, and supplied the linen closet. When we were finished, there was a recycle bin by the fridge, a small white board and bulletin board on the fridge door, with pins and magnets, and a fruit bowl on the table waiting for news of the official arrival.
Still, though, people weren’t satisfied. They added more area rugs to the downstairs bedroom, and a clothes rod and shelving to a downstairs closet, and simply made things pretty. The house looked like someone was already living there. Indeed, a family was living there—they just had not arrived yet.
On Friday, they did. After twenty-five years in a refugee camp, our family can really begin to live. They are grateful. They will help us build our city, our province, our country. They enrich us; they don’t threaten us. Our parishioners represent the antithesis of the dark message Trump and his cronies inflicted on the world on Thursday evening a week or so ago. Rather than just talk about family values and Christianity, our parishioners live it out in their actions. They look outward, not inward. They are generous. They show the world what’s possible when a group galvanizes to make a difference. They affirm what is best in the human spirit. As our family walked toward us, I thought how Donald Trump and his supporters cannot be more wrong.