Pastor Bill Bigger of Hope Valley Baptist Church shares his personal experience of welcoming an Afghan SIV family to the Triangle
Given the political rhetoric of recent days and weeks, I am dealing with a variety of emotions and want to share an experience I recently had. I spent some time visiting with a young man who came with his family to be our guests at Hope House less than 48 hours before. Hope House is brick ranch home on our church property that we renovated to temporary shelter to refugees when they first arrive in the country through World Relief.
Though our new guest, his wife, and 3 preschoolers are still adjusting to a country and time zone very different than their own, he saw me in the church parking lot and invited me to come sit down in the house and offered me some tea. We had met briefly the day before, and he seemed eager to talk and to express his gratitude for a nice place to stay for several weeks while more permanent housing is being found. He told me that this transition is “very difficult,” but his spirit so impressed me. While his wife speaks almost no English, she sat with us and was very gracious as well. One of the young children was asleep on the couch, another was asleep in a bedroom, and a 4-year old fell asleep on her father’s lap while we talked (though it was 10:45 am in Durham, it would have been 8:45 pm back in their homeland). When I commented on how cute and precious the children are, he translated for his wife, and they both broke out into huge smiles that resembled the joyful smiles of every other proud parent I have ever met. I certainly grinned as I watched him pat his daughter’s back as she dozed off on his lap and wondered how many times I had done the same thing with one of my children when they were young. I didn’t see a “refugee.” I saw a husband and father and new friend who loves his wife and his children.
This husband/father spent some years as a translator for the US Special Forces and knows 5 languages, but when I asked him what kind of work he would be seeking, he noted that he is not ashamed to take any job and simply wanted to work to provide for his family. I was almost tearful as I listened to him talk about some of his experiences and as I sensed his kind heart and warm spirit. Though I think that he and his family are Muslim, I felt like I was beginning a friendship and recognized that we share much in common as husbands and fathers. I look forward to spending more time getting to know him, listening to his stories, and seeing how he and his wife love their precious children. I was blessed by this short visit.
I generally avoid sharing political thoughts or opinions on social media and am glad that I get to serve a church which has members from all across the political spectrum. I don’t always agree with the social media posts by my fellow church members and friends, and not everyone will agree with what I say. Still, though, we are brothers and sisters who belong to each other and need each other. We are called to love others as we have been loved by God.
In light of recent news stories, however, I want to speak my heart and say that regardless of our varying opinions on immigration and refugee resettlement and how it should be done, I was reminded again during this visit that amidst the labels and acronyms being tossed about so casually, we are talking about individuals and families who simply want to make the best life they can for their loved ones. As Christians, and frankly as people in general, we must not accept attempts to label people negatively based on their nationality, their ethnicity, their language, or their socio-economic background. The more time I get to spend with refugees and recent immigrants, the more impressed I am by their courage, their determination, and their commitment to seek freedom and a better life in order to take care of those who are precious to them. Most are still concerned about loved ones back in their home countries where it is often far from safe. I can’t imagine what it would be like to walk in their shoes.
Amidst the rhetoric and news coverage, please remember that every one of these people whose futures are being tossed about as pawns in a political game are beloved by God and are created in the image of God. They are individuals with hopes and dreams who deserve our love, our compassion, our care, and our warm hospitality. I still have a lot of learning and growing to do and I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I am praying that I will be the kind of person who loves and advocates for the marginalized, the vulnerable, and those too easily overlooked and dismissed.
Special thanks to Pastor Bill Bigger of Hope Valley Baptist Church for this guest column. We need you and your church to join us in welcome like Hope Valley! Learn how – click here.