Two weeks ago my formation group had the incredible chance to help set up a home and greet a family of refugees from Bhutan. The family is Karin, a minority in Bhutan, and had been living in a refugee camp in Thailand.
The government puts out a list of what every refugee family needs when they come to the United States. This is the list we sent out to Cortina, friends and family to ask for donations. One plate for every member. One set of sheets for every bed. One couch. One table. It is a simple inventory list of things that have, over time, been deemed the things that every American household needs.
The five of us went on multiple Target runs, got donations from the community, and from Res Life. When Sarah and Emmett went to Target the first time, they made a really beautiful statement when they showed us the trunk full of blankets and pots and pans and other supplies. “Why get the cheapest stuff for this family?” Emmett asked. “It seems sort of disrespectful doesn’t it?” It is very hard to imagine having a refugee camp being our only reality. It was hard to imagine having to come to another sparsely furninshed home, already so confused, not understanding a single word, every experience new.
So, we began to make a new effort. Our goal became more than just setting up a functioning household. We began to try to make a home.
The night the family was going to land in Omaha, Emmett, Allison and I spent hours between the apartment, Target, and our own dorms, running around, setting up. Allison offered a beautiful piece of art she had made. We bought a tiny teddy bear for the little girl. We color coordinated the bathroom. I fabreezed the smell of cats away. The apartment became cozy and welcoming.
Finally, the time came for the family to arrive at the airport. Our theology paper was due the next day, but Allison and I had already accepted the reality that we would be up all night, so we scooped up Sarah and headed to the airport.
There we met the interpreter’s family, a wild bunch of little kids. The most beautiful little family walked of the airplane. They were timid, understandably overwhelmed. When we got back to the apartment we showed them all of their new things, and welcomed them home. Allison and I watched nervously as the mom took a bite of a snickerdoodle we had made—her first taste of American food.
The most touching moment of the night was when they all shook our hands, even the six year old girl. They were tired after 48 hours of traveling, scared, confused, but, grateful.
I believe we truly made a difference in the lives of this family. I’d like to think that the red blanket we draped over the couch wasn’t just another source for warmth, but proof that they are welcome here, that someone here cherishes them. America is our home. We want it to be their home too. We want to be a part of that home.
So, I really encourage you to make an effort. Look at how the choices you make allow you to interact with people differently. Smile at strangers. Give home- made art. Bake an extra batch of cookies. Such beautiful lives surround you. Become a part of them.