One ordinary Monday night, after school and soccer practice, in the middle of our suburban middle-class life, my husband and I called our children into the living room for a family meeting. Just because we didn’t live in India anymore, didn’t mean we couldn’t serve the nations, right where we lived.
“People from Guatemala are seeking refuge in the United States from the violence and poverty in their country. For weeks, they have walked, hitch-hiked, and hidden from gangs and authorities who would turn them back. Hundreds of legal asylum-seekers are showing up at our Arizona border each day with only the clothes on their back,” we explained. “There’s no room at the processing centers, and some of them need a place to stay for a couple of days. We can open our home, and they can stay in your bedrooms.”
We could do something. Or we could do nothing, and live another regular, ordinary day. We chose to do something.
The next day, I picked up my daughter early from school. We met the bus from Immigration Control coming straight from the border to our church parking lot. Dozens of us lined the sidewalk and cheered, “Welcome to America!” as the mostly women and children tumbled out of the bus, weary, bedraggled, and afraid. Their shy smiles and incredulous faces lit up at our extravagant welcome. My little girl witnessed adults serving a hot meal to people who hadn’t eaten in days and heard us saying ‘you are safe now’ in Spanish. She held the hand of a five-year-old girl choosing donated clothes, shoes, and toiletries to fill a suitcase.
“We don’t have enough host families,” said the organizer, a modern-day Mother Teresa meets Harriet Tubman, named Magdalena. “Will you take three families, most of them one adult with a child or two?”
Again, we could do something. Or we could do more. We chose more.
We piled into our minivan and carefully drove weary travelers to our beautiful home. In a glimpse of the brilliance I dreamed they would one day be capable of, our teenagers had cleaned the house, re-made beds, and moved their things to the one bedroom we would share. We showed each family to their own room, provided fresh towels for a long, hot shower, and set the table for a big family meal.
In a politically tense climate, with a busy family schedule, and both parents working, it would have been easy to say no. We’re just too busy. We’re working. The house isn’t clean. The immigration issue is controversial, and we don’t want to get involved.
Most of the time, when out-of-the-ordinary opportunities to do good come our way, they aren’t convenient. They often cost time, money, and effort. It’s easier to go with the status quo, keep things the way they are, keep doing what we’re doing.
It’s so much easier to do nothing, than something.
Each time we housed asylum-seekers, the novelty wore off a little more. It required hours of conversations with their sponsors, finding bus schedules and explaining routes, providing clothing and supplies, buying phones and teaching them to use them so they didn’t get lost on their multi-day bus treks across the US, feeding them, crying with them, and then texting with them all the way to their destination (and for months thereafter), because they were now our friends.
Kind but wary, our neighbors cautioned their children to be careful of the foreigners, and perhaps they thought, “Oh my, how hard it would be to have those people in your home, their children giving up their beds, sleeping on couches, and feeling scared.” But they didn’t know that I thrilled with the good kind of pride at my children trying to talk to our new guests using Google Translate on their phones, working hard to clean and help me cook without complaining, keeping the young children busy, teaching them a few English words and making them smile.
The next morning, our Spanish-speaking neighbor came over and all of us slid in close on the couches and the floor. She translated the families’ story of escape from terror, persecution, and poverty in their hometown, their 18-day journey through Mexico to safety, the pain of leaving loved ones behind, and the promise of a new life.
One father held his little girl on his lap. As he spoke, he looked at my youngest. “Last night, as we lay in your bed, with clean coverings, feeling safe, we thanked God. We remembered that just the night before, we were hiding in the bushes, lying in the mud in the rain, not sure if we would live. We must always thank God. We have never experienced hospitality like this from strangers. We thank God.”
Then we prayed for them and my friend translated. “Oh God, thank you for leading and protecting them. Heal their aching hearts. Be their provider. Help them find jobs. Keep their family back home safe from evil people.” They cried and we cried.
It’s true that the immigration system is not perfect. It’s true that systemic issues in their country need to be addressed. It’s true that it’s not ideal for families to be separated. It’s true that we only did this a few times, sent them on their way to their new cities, and are not involved in a long-term solution. Our family could have said no, but oh how much we would have missed!
When the opportunity came to us, we said yes, and our children experienced the reality of a world they don’t live in, first hand. They saw with their eyes, in their own home, the reality of millions around the globe forced to live with the consequences of a broken world. They learned to love the whole world more deeply and personally.
Oh Lord, please let this next generation grow hearts that beat with God’s heart to love all people, to understand those who are different from them, to welcome the foreigner, to show kindness to the most vulnerable, to experience first-hand the physical, emotional, and spiritual poverty of a world without Jesus Christ.
Learn More About Welcoming Asylum Seekers:
Check out this family activity on refugees.
Read Jeannie Marie’s book, Across the Street and Around the World.