The SOOPers that visited our church this past week came here because they were interested in our immigrant ministry. So the day after they arrived, we went to La Casa to talk with some of the families staying there. The father of a family from Angola sat down with them. As soon as he began talking, it was clear that he really wanted to tell his whole story, to have it be seen and heard by people who cared.
He talked first about the violence in Angola and the difficulties of raising his family there. He talked about being a Professor of Biochemistry. He spent a good amount of time teaching us about the process of synthesizing different molecules. He talked about his decision to travel to Brazil and how life seemed equally impossible there. Then he started to describe his journey with his wife and three children coming north.
The journey is hard for everyone. It is full of challenges and dangers. But people also have a range of experiences within that. His was one of the most difficult I’d heard. He said they had walked almost the entire way because they had no money for buses or trains or boats. They had no money either for food and would go for days at a time without eating. He described how his family had to stop several times to try to work for a few weeks so that they could continue traveling. He said other families kept going ahead of them. He said they would hear from families who had made the journey in one month, two months. It took them over six months, he said, until they reached the river.
He described in that moment feeling completely hopeless. He said, "We had come so far and I was afraid to cross. I didn’t know anyone on the other side. I had no idea what we were going to do." They waited one day there, with nothing at all to go back to, but also unable to move forward.
And then he received a text message late one night. He said, "I looked at my phone and it was a friend who had gone ahead of us. And this friend wrote to me with a number to call and told me, this person would help us. I saw this number and I just knew, God is good. God is good."
I asked him whose number it was, but I already knew. Kabibi had called me herself late one night, two days after the day after he was describing, to say this family had arrived and she had no idea how they had her number but she was on her way to the airport to pick them up and bring them to La Casa.
This father told the SOOPers about coming to La Casa. He said he had eaten well for the first time in over a year. He had felt safe and was able to sleep at night. He was filled with gratitude for our church and for the ways that we say yes.
Can you imagine standing beside him in the darkness of the night after all that time, staring at that phone, feeling completely hopeless? Can you imagine that next moment of miracle? It is so clearly a miracle that we are all participating in. The love that we are saying yes to in our church each day is being magnified and amplified and broadcast like seeds, sown in the hearts of people hundreds and thousands of miles away.
These past few weeks, I have been wondering about telling the stories of the families in our ministry. I think separating their stories in any way from our own stories ("our" being people born in this country) runs counter to the message that they are all human beings just like us. We are all just people, all journeying in a foreign land in a sense, all at times suffering, all at times in need of miracle. But I wanted to tell this story just for that reason, because I think we can all relate to that moment of hopelessness.
We have all had that moment of feeling completely enveloped by the darkness. We can all picture being there: worn down, desperate, wondering if we made a wrong decision somewhere back there, wondering if maybe actually we are all alone. Maybe you can relate to that receiving of miracle. Or maybe in that moment for you, you didn't experience that feeling of rescue. But what we can remember is, if we, and especially Kabibi, hadn't chosen to say yes to the ways God was calling us to be, this man wouldn't have experienced that rescue either.
Because we are choosing to participate, God's love and hope are spreading out from our church all around the world. We can choose to participate in being that hope for someone else. And that is an unbelievable miracle.
As I write this, that man and his family are on a bus to Maine. I wonder who they are sending messages to right now, telling them about this community of faith across the border that is waiting to receive them with a warm embrace.