“Phil, why am I doing this? This is a bad idea.”
My stomach churned. I thought I might need to throw up. Anxiety crept its way up my body, threatening to choke any courage I might have left. I stood at the door, keys in hand while the kids kept up their after-school shenanigans in all parts of the house.
I could stay and eat dinner with my family and do the normal bedtime routine.
Or I could go to the volunteer training I’d signed up for.
Yep. That was the cause of my anxiety. See, to attend this training, I had to drive into the city and find a place to park my van. I had to enter an unfamiliar building and sit with strangers to learn how to help strangers from other countries adapt to life in the United States. And I would have to leave the city in the dark.
For an introvert, this is a deadly combination.
But I did it. I got in the van and drove into the city. I had a plan for where I was going to park, but when I went to make the turn into the lot, a man was standing in the middle of the sidewalk so I aborted that plan and went down to the next street. Parking in the city, anytime, is stressful for me. I’m never sure if I can park in that spot or how much money to put in the meter and I’m forever afraid of getting a parking ticket or having our car towed.
So, imagine my surprise when I found a spot right next to the building on a side street. That eased my anxiety some.
As I drove by the building trying to find parking, I noticed some people gathering on the front steps. One of them was a man with long hair, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. After I parked the car, I was afraid to walk around to the front of the building because what if he was homeless. And then I realized how ridiculous that was because I was attending a training to help refugees–who are homeless!
Turns out he was there for the training, too, and if I believed all the western depictions of Jesus were accurate, I’d say upon closer look he looked a little like Jesus, so my anxiety leveled off.
We found our way into the building and entered the room and sat, not talking but looking through papers and a packet of information. Just after the presentation started, about a dozen more people joined us and I was intimidated by the look of some of them. I was in the city, after a work day, and many of them looked hip and chic and business-y. Maybe I was out of place. I’m just a mom, after all.
But then I remembered, again, why we were all there. This wasn’t something any of us had to do, I don’t think. It didn’t matter what else our lives were about. For this one night, we were united in our passion to reach out to others.
I was shocked by what I learned. Facts can be boring sometimes, but these facts represented people and for the first time in my life, I think I actually understand that.
Fifty percent of the world’s refugees are children. Like my own. There are 7-year-olds in this world who feel responsible for the safety of their family. I have a 7-year-old. She feels responsible for her second-grade homework and that’s about it.
Some families are separated for years in their journey to safety. This little office in a small section of Lancaster County in a tiny part of the world helps reunite families. Would I want someone to help me if I hadn’t seen my daughter in six years? This is superhero stuff right here.
When we traveled to Kenya earlier this year, we saw refugees boarding the planes we were on. We weren’t exactly sure at the time that that is what they were, but this training confirmed it. They were boarding planes and leaving countries of strife for resettlement elsewhere, maybe even here.
Did you know that refugees have to repay their travel expenses and they get a bill five months after they have resettled? Could you pay a $2,000 airline bill five months after moving your family to a new country and beginning entry-level work while learning how to pay other monthly bills in a currency unfamiliar to you?
Of the millions of refugees in the world right now, only a small percentage actually resettle in other countries. Most live in refugee tent “cities” for far longer than is planned or is healthy. There are some who have lived this way for decades. In Kenya we met people who had been living in an Internally Displaced People camp for seven years. They no longer had tents, but mud huts are no upgrade when you’ve lost the only life you knew.
Did you also know that refugees seeking resettlement are interviewed about their lives and personal stories and undergo health and security screenings before they are granted permission to resettle? Sometimes this process takes years.
And did you know that ISIS isn’t the biggest fear among Syrian refugees? No, they fear their own government and the corrupt regime of their president who tortures children and kills parents while the kids watch, who bombs houses where mothers sit nursing their children. This is why they leave.
I said “yes” to this training because I need to do something besides read and write and be horrified. I don’t yet know what this will look like, but I know that by the time I got in the van at the end of the night, I wasn’t anxious about anything.
Sometimes “yes” looks like an upset stomach before walking out the door because you don’t know what to expect. And sometimes it turns into stories you can’t ever forget.