Friday, September 02, 2016

Hospitality to Strangers

Note: Sections of this post that are in green are from the liturgy at my church on August 28. You'll see why.

It started on August 14, when an announcement was made that a group was meeting at a social service agency the following night to talk about resettling a refugee family. I didn't know anything about that kind of project and I decided to attend, just to see what it was all about. I invited my sister, a member of a different church to come along.

It turned out that there were three congregations -- Quaker, Lutheran, and Swedenborgian (or New Church) -- interested in sponsoring a family of seven people. This group was traveling with another group of four extended family members, but the agency was going to handle their resettlement. We only had a husband and wife, their four children (9, 7, 5, and 3) and their 18-year-old niece. There were three attending from my Lutheran church and the youngest of us, a guy named Ken who I hardly knew, made the commitment to lead the effort. The other two churches -- along with my sister's Roman Catholic group (she'd invited two of her friends to come along) signed on. I took the attendance sheet home and created an email list.

Hymn 526: God is Here!

God is here! As we his people
meet to offer praise and prayer,
may we find in fuller measure
what it is in Christ we share:
Here, as in the world around us,
all our varied skills and arts
wait the coming of His Spirit
into open minds and hearts

It was three days later that we got the word that "our family" would be arriving on August 31!  A second meeting at the agency was called for the evening of August 22. I took out the materials we'd been given and saw a list of what needed to be provided for the family in terms of furnishings and knew that the way that had to be done was with a table, so I began a two-column document that I thought I'd hand over to whoever would be taking that responsibility.

Fewer of us came to the second meeting than the first. As my husband pointed out, next to Christmas, the two weeks ending with Labor Day is the worst time to try to get a group to do something. But for me, it was the best possible time: The school where I work was closed for two weeks. 

The agency director said the most pressing need, of course, was housing. A place for them to live. A place for seven people including four young children to live. A place with four bedrooms because the family was hoping eventually to be approved to be foster care providers for two additional minors. Ideally, Our Family was to be within easy visiting distance of the Other Four. Julie knew some people who had purchased a repurposed convent and Ken knew of a four-bedroom house in his neighborhood. They became the Housing Team, with another couple of people.We didn't have a lot of other ideas. 

We moved on to identify participants for the other ten teams. When the Furnishings Team was mentioned, I felt my hand go up and heard myself say, "I'd like to handle that. And I'd like someone from another church to work with me." From across the room, came a voice, "I'll do that." I spent two minutes with Donna at the end of the meeting, just enough to exchange emails.

The next afternoon, the welcome news came. The owners of the former convent had agreed to rent the property to our refugees! And it was big. It was so big that there would be room for the Other Four to live there with Our Family. The property became known as The Nunnery and we began thinking in terms of Our Big Family.

Psalm 112: 

Light shines in the darkness for the upright;
the righteous are merciful and full of compassion
. . . .
They have given freely to the poor, and their righteousness stands forever

I cannot tell you how many emails flew back and forth between Donna and me during the next eight days. Nor can I tell you how many additional emails came into play, how many generous people responded to the need. I can't tell you how many miles I drove. Nor can I tell you how many hours how many other people spent doing all manner of things to get The Nunnery ready.The women's organization from my church gave me $800 to spend as I needed. My own Circle handed over $150. Donna and I shopped and begged; a young man from her Swedenborgian congregation, Clayton, became the third member of the the team. We put notices out to our respective congregations, we told our story to local thrift stores who slashed their prices and in some cases just handed things over. My Circle sisters passed around a list and many needs were met through their generosity. I met a gravelly voiced guy called "Vic the Mattress Man," who gave me rock bottom prices for what I needed. Near the end of the week, the alliteratively named Tina Shema, manager of a thrift shop, said, "Just give me a list of what you still need and I'll have it there."

Sure there were snags. There were moments of frustration. We operated on adrenalin and little sleep. Donna and I discovered, though, that temperamentally we were twins who had been separated at birth. Our work together was seamless.

A Reading From Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

And it came together. As we somehow knew that it would. Among other things, we located ten beds with the necessary linens (including two blankets per bed), couches, loveseats, comfy chairs, dining tables and chairs to seat 11, a couple dozen bath towels, hand towels, and wash cloths; dishes for 20, drinking glasses, pots and pans, cleaning supplies, end and coffee tables, nightstands, dressers, lamps, trash cans, paper products, toiletries, kitchen utensils, curtains, backpacks, school supplies, area rugs; truly everything a family of eleven would need. Oh, and five soft, cushy teddy bears, perhaps the most important thing. I made each of them a bow from my scraps.

I am a person who, despite a seminary education, does not have the kind of continual deep awareness of God’s presence that many other people seem to have. I have times when I know God wants me to do something or another, but I seldom have that visceral, deeply emotional connection with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But on Sunday, August 28, all Three were working overtime. I was in tears through most of the service.  The lessons aren’t chosen by the pastor; they are appointed through the Revised Common Lectionary. Each Scripture reading, each hymn, even the sermon by our vicar tied into the not-quite-a-week I had just experienced. A week where Lutherans and Swedenborgians, Quakers and Roman Catholics, most of whom had never met until a few days ago, by God’s grace, were making Something Happen.

The Gospel: St. Luke 14

13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

And then came August 31. Snags had dashed our hope of having everything ready with a day to spare. The Food Team was arriving at 3:00 with our guests due around 4:00. I got to The Nunnery around 2:00 and started making beds. A young Quaker, Cherie, appeared out of nowhere and began pulling new bedding out of plastic, then ran around plugging in lamps and checking lightbulbs for functionality. I was panicky and hot and tired. But we pressed on.

Hymn No. 710 Let Streams of Living Justice

Let streams of living justice flow down upon the earth.
Give freedom’s light to captives; let all the poor have worth.
The hungry’s hands are pleading; the workers claim their rights,
The mourners long for laughter, the blinded seek for sight.
Make liberty a beacon, strike down the iron power.
Abolish ancient vengeance. Proclaim your people’s hour.
The dreaded disappearance of family and friend,
The torture and the silence – the fear that knows no end.
The mother with her candle, the child who holds a gun,
The old one nursing hatred – all seek release to come.
Each candle burns for freedom, each light’s a tyrant’s fall.
Each flower placed for martyrs gives tongue to silenced call.
For healing of the nations, for peace that will not end.
For love that makes us lovers, God grant us grace to mend.
Weave our varied gifts together: knit our lives as they are spun.
On your loom of life enrobe us till the thread of life is run.
O great Weaver of our fabric, bind church and world in one.
Dye our texture with your radiance, light our colours with your sun.


Just as I finished the last bed, Joe came over. He hadn’t seen The Nunnery since the day he’d measured it. We toured the first floor. Wonderful aromas from the Welcome Meal that the Food Team was preparing filled the kitchen. Then we went upstairs. I wanted him to see how the bedrooms had all worked out. It took a while.

When we came downstairs, the living room was full of people I’d never seen before, tired people who had been traveling for two days, beautiful people dressed in wonderful African-print clothing. I stopped, speechless, stuck in the doorway, my eyes filling once again.

I had the same feeling as when I first laid eyes on my first grandchild:

I was witnessing a Miracle.


Hymn 805 Lead On, O King Eternal (last verse)

Your city’s built for music: we are the stones you seek.
Your harmony is language. We are the words you speak.
Our faith we find in service, our hope in other’s dreams.
Our love in hand of neighbour. Our homeland brightly gleams.
Inscribe our hearts with justice, your way – the path untried:
Your truth – the heart of stranger, your life – the Crucified.


20 comments:

Susan Heydt said...

You have me in tears. Both for the miracle you were present to see, and for the love and energy you exerted in your Faith in Action project. Imagine the possibilities of these new lives....

Quiltdivajulie said...

Magnificent post - I, too, am in tears (of both awe and joy). Thank you for finding the time to compose this eloquent telling of a truly marvelous group effort. So much goodness and kindness embodied in this story ...

QuiltingFitzy said...

I am awestruck, and perhaps a wee bit jealous, if that's possible. How wonderful to be able to throw yourself unselfishly into this project and see it through to its fruition! xo

Janet said...

Amen

Janet said...

Amen

Barbara Anne said...

Cannot type for the tears here. Sniffle ...

What a wonderful telling of the past two weeks of miracles. The liturgy was amazingly perfect and awesome in the real meaning of the word.

May this weary family find peace and joy.

Thanks be to God.

Hugs!

Lori said...

Miracles happen when people put aside themselves and start helping others. What an amazing story of God working through his people.
So lovely

Karen said...

Every detail knitted together. The Kingdom of God at work. For such a time as this.

Synthia said...

Nancy, this is the most wonderful story! It is easy to see the hand of God working in every aspect of what transpired. Praise God from whom all blessings flow, and flow they did through all of you on the team. I'm sure the team is receiving equal blessings as well.

Carol- Beads and Birds said...

Well written and interesting...and informative. We all know that refugees are sponsored when they come here, but I doubt many, including myself, think about what is actually involved in getting them settled in. Raised Catholic, I gave up organized religion when the priest scandals became known. I have never been able to get that faith back, but I do believe in a higher power. I hope you will continue to share information about how this family adjusts to living here and some of the problems they encounter. Such a very inspirational story.
xx, Carol

diane said...

Blessings to you and all that did this massive undertaking. It's truly wonderful when we "listen" to that feeling from God. Happy that you shared the story along with the songs and readings of the Bible that were all part of this journey of helping those in need. It has truly touched me.

OT Quilter said...

What a wonderful story of welcome, of cooperation, of love for humankind. And what an antidote to the rhetoric which bombards us these days. The music for Lead On, O King Eternal will be in my head for a while now, reminding me of you and your participation in this act of generosity and hope. Thank you, again, for sharing. You and your fellow workers are truly an inspiration and a representation of what is possible when we just take care of each other.

Janet O. said...

This brought chills and tears. Such a wonderful telling of people from varied faiths working together for the good of a few of God's children in need. Thank you, Nancy, for being involved, and for sharing it with us.

Chookyblue...... said...

I just hope with all the support they have received they settle in well............a beautiful story.........

Nann said...

Things aren't coincidences. They are God-incidences. You have not only witnessed one (well, a series), but you have been God's hands in the matter. Blessings to you, Nancy -- and may the family prosper in their new home.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing and inspiring us to do what we can for others.

cindy

Quayquilter said...

Reminds me of the loaves and fishes when pehaps a similar outpouring took place,also a miracle. Very mo.ved by this

LizA. said...

As I wipe the tears from my eyes, my heart is full to overflowing after reading this wonderful post. Thank you for sharing this incredible story.

suz said...

People think miracles should be big Hollywood-type shows...they don't realize that what you all did is the best kind of miracle. I too was in tears reading this - so amazing - you are all wonderful people and you will all be blessed. Thank you for sharing this.

Louise SS said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. It made me cry....There are so many people all over the world that need help to start over in a new country and it makes me very happy and grateful that there are people that care. There is so many complaints about refugees being bad people when all they do is try to survive. I hope you will share more of this story. Here in Sweden we also have many refugees and luckily most Swedes see them as resources even though many complains over the cost.... like we can't afford to help! Who knows, next time we might be the ones who need help.... Your story is a happy story!!!