If you have had a desire to be the hands, feet, and heart of Christ for refugees but are unsure how to start, I encourage you to read on.
Taking a Step of Faith
In the summer of 2016, I learned about a Syrian family through a woman who was giving away bicycles to refugee children at an apartment complex. When she met this charming family only days before, they mentioned they needed laundry detergent. Because of my connection with the bicycle lady and my growing concern for refugees, I decided to do something I had never done before. I showed up the next day, unannounced, at the doorstep of a stranger’s apartment with a bottle of laundry detergent. I was graciously received and quickly ushered into their home to be introduced to everyone living there. The parents, Ahmed and Fatin, along with their three teenagers, had arrived in Nashville 10 days prior. They had fled Syria with little more than the hope of saving their own lives and the lives of their remaining children.
Getting to Know the Family
During the next couple of months, I continued to make visits to this family. Through donations from my friends, I was able to help provide a few of their material needs to enable them to settle in the United States more easily. More importantly, we developed a unique and lasting friendship with each other. Over steaming cups of tea or coffee, we shared pictures from our phones, Facetimed with family and friends still on the other side of the globe, and communicated with one another through charades and the unreliable help of the Google Translate app. I have been privileged to listen to this family while they described, through words and gestures, their pain over losing loved-ones to war. (Speaking the same language is quite unnecessary to share in someone’s deepest grief.) I have also had the honor of being present when this mother and father were reunited with their oldest living son, Umar, and his family on the day they arrived to settle in the U.S. When Umar and his wife Hannan stepped out of the airport van, we recognized each other immediately thanks to our previous Facetime “conversations.” That day, my new friendship with Hannan began.
My New Friendship With Hannan
Hannan is the mother of three preschool children. Unlike Fatin, Hannan is a very shy and restrained woman. She has a quiet beauty that rarely reveals her inner pain. Her children are charming, which doubtless helps her confidence when interacting with new people. In the first few months, when I would visit Hannan, I would spend most of my time playing with the children. She and I would try to “talk” to each other, but mostly, we just drank tea. It wasn’t too long, however, before I heard the news that Hannan was expecting a new child. I rejoiced with her over the news, and I looked forward to the months ahead when this new baby would be making his first appearance.
As Hannan’s precious American-made baby continued to grow inside of her, my relationship continued to grow with her family. I helped them coordinate appointments with doctors, dentists, and various government agencies, and then I typically provided transportation to these appointments. It was during one of my visits with the family that I learned that the expectant mother was at the hospital. I knew that the baby was not due to make his appearance for several more months, but when I tried to inquire as to the reason for the hospital stay, our language barriers got in the way. After unsuccessfully trying to understand from both the grandparents and Hannan’s husband what was wrong, the family asked me to go to the hospital to find out.
Crisis at the Hospital
When I arrived at Hannan’s hospital room that April afternoon, I was shocked to learn that she was being prepped for an emergency Caesarean. This dear woman looked terrified and so vulnerable. There was no one with her except hospital personnel. In the next few moments, through the help of an Arabic interpreter, the attending nurse asked her if she would like for me to go with her into the delivery room. As shocked as I was to see Hannan being prepped for the surgery, I was more stunned to find myself wearing scrubs and being escorted into the operating room.
While Hannan and I held tightly to one another’s hands during the delivery, and I kissed and wiped tears from her cheeks, tiny baby Saalim entered the world. The baby made no sound and we waited anxiously to hear if he was born alive. As the surgeon stitched Hannan back together, the neonatologist worked to stabilize the baby in order to show him briefly to us. Then, before we could even take a picture, the baby was whisked off to NICU. We were told that, though he was not breathing on his own, he maintained a very strong heartbeat.
I stayed with Hannan while she went to recovery and then to her postpartum room. There, we waited. Waited for the nausea to subside, waited for the spinal block to wear off, waited for her husband to respond to her phone calls, and most impatiently, waited for any word on the condition of this new baby boy. More than eight hours had passed since I arrived at the hospital, and, finally, Hannan got to go see her baby. I was so honored that she wanted me right there with her when she stared with awe at this beautiful little baby. He had ten tiny fingers, ten tiny toes, dark hair, and his mother’s nose. He weighed a mere 590 grams. (For perspective, that is slightly more than a pint of milk.)
Sharing in Pain and Grief
Over the next eleven days, I took Hannan back and forth to the hospital to spend time with this fragile little boy. Each time, she wanted me there as the doctors and nurses provided updates on his status. At first, the medical reports were cautiously optimistic. His heart was strong; his lungs just needed time to grow. Then, the reports grew grimmer. There was a blockage in his bowel, his need for added oxygen had increased to maximum capacity, and his heart was growing weaker. The doctors were doing all that they could. Then, on the eleventh day, I received a call from the hospital. They told me that they could not reach the parents by phone, and that baby Saalim was dying. Would I bring them to the hospital for them to say goodbye to their son? For a moment, I wanted to cease being part of this story. After all the loss and heartache that this family had already endured, I wanted this story to be one of miracles and happily ever-after, but it was not to be.
With tears in our eyes, Hannan and I rushed to the hospital to say farewell. That night, while Hannan held her dying baby boy, I held her. We spoke only with tears. With silent cries, I pleaded to my Savior for mercy. For about an hour she held him, and then the sacred moment came when he passed into the arms of eternity. It was Good Friday.
A Story God is Still Writing
It has taken me nearly half a year to put words to this story that I believe God is still writing. A few weeks ago, Hannan was surprised to learn that she was once again expecting. She wanted me to accompany her to the first ultrasound so that, together, we could witness the flickering heartbeat growing inside of her. God willing, this little one should arrive in time for Easter.
On the surface, it may not seem likely that donating laundry detergent could possibly be Kingdom work, but God’s ways are much higher than our ways. A bottle of laundry detergent may possibly be what opens the door for someone to meet Jesus!