Her name was Mariam. And everything she had in this world fit into my minivan. Two little girls—three years old and eighteen months. Four suitcases—only two with working handles and none with working wheels. A few bags of diapers, lots of basmati rice, and a stroller.
Maybe it was because I had brought my Sam and my mom with me, but she must have felt safe enough to get in the van. After all, we were all just mothers and children in there. She even let me put the girls into donated car seats—they had never in their life been in a car seat. And let’s not talk about whether or not they had ridden in cars, mmm-kay?
As we drove, I listened to Mariam try to calm the screaming one—three, thick black hair and wide bangs, and so much life. She gave candies to keep the peace—apparently Afghan moms aren’t above bribing either.
The eighteen month old had curls that lifted away from her head right above her ears and big almond eyes, a dark-haired baby doll if I ever saw one. She made loud noises as she tried to wiggle free of the seatbelt harnesses. My Sam returned her grunts and yells with his own mimicked sounds. I laughed at the seeming communication. We all start out speaking the same language of hunger and need.
When the car hit the mountain pass, I thought of how crazy this must be for her. I was transporting her entire life to somewhere she had never been. She had no choice but to trust me. She didn’t fully understand where we were going or what was going on—how her spot at the shelter needed to be filled by another broken mother, how her case was being transferred to another non-profit, how the funds got delayed so she had nowhere ready for her, how people had scrambled to make a temporary place for her, how she had to spend the day in my home before going to another home that evening.
Her husband had created an impossibly high wall of American bureaucracy when he abandoned his refugee wife and children and took all their documents with him. Did he know when he walked away—daughter screaming for him to come back—that he had taken with him the legs they might stand weeping upon too?
We got to my house at noon. I opened my fridge door and stood there awkwardly wondering what I could prepare for lunch. I picked up the box of lunchmeat—ham. The other box—ham. The one thing I vaguely remembered about Moslems—they don’t eat pig. I found a can of chicken in the pantry and threw together a chicken salad sandwich. I was determined to be a decent hostess (I was also starving). Mariam gently asked if she could whip up some over-easy eggs instead. Perhaps, eggs were the one thing that looked familiar in my American kitchen.
Later that afternoon, we were sitting on the living room floor, Barney entertaining her girls. I probably misspoke when I asked if she had family here. I don’t know a thing about Afghan culture.
Her sentences came out broken and all the harsh American “’a’ as in a-a-apple” sounds were softened to the schwa—“Ә”—like the last “a” in Amanda.
“No. No fuh-mily. Husbund leave.” Tears pooled in her brown eyes. I now know that a husband gone, no matter who is right or wrong, is shame and estrangement.
“Husbund leave. Farah cry, ‘Stay, please stay!’ Farah, cry, cry, cry. Husbund leave me, Farah. Maliha, only baby; nine months, like you baby.” She pointed at Sam. A few tears escaped from where they’d pooled in her eyes.
“Husbund… papers.” She made a shredding gesture as she said this. “Husband no call. No call. Nine months. No green card. No medicul. No food.” Mariam was distraught. I saw in her a desperate mother, a desperate woman, weary from the battle of survival. I saw the pain of abandonment. I saw the worry and the fears—and while I would never compare my struggles to hers, I recognized something in her—something I have in my own self.
I grabbed her hand into mine. I am not a very touchy person, but compassion can move beyond language barriers and a simple touch can speak louder than any words ever could.
“You are safe here. We will take care of you. It will be okay, Mariam. You are safe.” I squeezed her hand and looked her right in the eyes. I said the word one more time because it really is the deepest longing of our mother hearts for our children. It’s the deepest longing of our own hearts—for deep down in us is this place that forgets the age we actually are because it goes right on feeling forever young—forever small and childlike and in need of care.
You are safe here. We won’t abandon you, because He will never abandon you.
When I had tucked my kids into bed the night before, I told them that we were going to be missionaries. They were so excited. They asked what a missionary was. I told them a missionary was someone who shows people who don’t know it yet the greatness of God’s love for them.
So the next day, while Mariam napped with Maliha in our big comfy chair, Addy and Jed built a blanket fort for Farah. They ran and laughed and tried to coax Farah into the fort. In the midst of this, Jed grabbed my arm and whispered in my ear, “Am I doing it, Mom? Am I being a missionary?”
“Yes, baby. You are doing it just right.” Sometimes, sharing the love of Christ looks like ordinary acts sprinkled right through with the gold magic of God’s love. As mothers, our big job and high calling is sharing that love story with the little people being raised up under our roofs. It might look everyday ordinary until that one moment when your child looks up at you and asks the deep question, and you see the magic that’s been there all along.
Last week, I discovered that showing the love of Christ to strangers—my kids right there with me—is the same thing as showing the love of Christ to my kids.
When I dropped Mariam off at the host family’s house, she hugged me touching her cheek to my cheek and kissing. I smiled and said, “Friend.” She smiled back and said, “Sister.”
“Yes.” Clumsy and American and a fridge full of ham, but I welcomed her anyways and she called me sister.
The thing I have known about missions since I was twenty-one and interning at a missions base, it’s not just about how you could bring the gospel to someone, how their life needs changing. No, that’s the thing about the gospel. For whoever would carry that timeless gospel message will find herself changed as well.
“’For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’.” -Matthew 25:35-40
I’d love to hear your stories too, have you ever welcomed a stranger into your home?
**all names have been changed to protect those involved.**
P.S. Remember Mariam and her two girls in your prayers as they start all over again in a new city this weekend?
P.P.S. All I did to get involved was make a simple phone call a few months back to ask my local World Relief office what I could do to help with the refugee crisis. World Relief is a Christian non-profit that partners with the local church to establish incoming refugees here and show them the love of Christ. You can check to see if you have one close to you here--->WorldRelief.org/us-offices
This post is in no way endorsed by World Relief, though I did ask permission before publishing.
Sharing in this beautiful community of storytellers.
Sharing in this beautiful community of storytellers.