“We are Human. Our Blood Runs Red.”

by janaharpdean on July 29, 2016

–July 29, 2016.  by Jana H. Dean.

“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18, NIV).

Born a girl and Hazara—a persecuted minority group in Afghanistan—Fatima[1] already had two strikes against her. Then she married the wrong man. One night, her husband pummeled her, knocked out teeth, stabbed her skull, sliced open her face, and left the twenty-five-year old mother unconscious and bleeding to death. When her brother found her, he put her on his back and ran to the nearest hospital. She wasn’t likely to make it, they said.

The next day, Fatima’s colleagues from the local TV station where she worked as a videographer, took her to the International Assistance Security Force hospital. There, doctors saved her life and reconstructed her jaw. Over the next six months, she healed, but with her husband still at large, she wasn’t safe. Even if the police would jail him, a bribe would secure his release. She appealed to a judge for justice, but when he suggested an illicit arrangement, she fled to Iran.

Later, when Iran refused to renew her visa, she and her sons left for Tajikistan.  She was a woman without a country. Back in Afghanistan, the Taliban said Hazaras weren’t even Afghans. In Iran, people said, “Go back to your own country.” Tired and poor and yearning to be free, they saw the light of a lamp lifted beside a golden door[2]. Ours.

After three years in Tajikistan, their application for asylum in America was approved. They borrowed $4,000 for plane tickets, packed their suitcases, and flew to America to begin again, as strangers in a foreign land.

On learning of their arrival that fall, I raced across the ten miles to Lutheran Services’ Welcome House to meet Fatima, and her three sons, ages four to eighteen. Over the next few months, we spent time together at stores, parks, restaurants, doctor’s offices, and their living room. Then Fatima joined the jewelry-making classes I was teaching Burmese refugees, and was soon inquiring about starting her own business.

I began to call on people in my circles to help the family get established —from Riverbend Community Church, Fellowship Bible Church, Calvary Chapel, and Columbia International University. Students, professional women, pastors, stay-at-home-moms, a doctor, a nurse, a school teacher, a welder, and English language partners shuttled the family to doctors’ appointments, grocery stores, and to their own homes for meals. They gave driving lessons, welding lessons, took them to the zoo and parks, registered Fatima’s youngest for kindergarten, and babysat him on OneMaker’s artisan workdays, so Fatima could earn extra income. Their English teachers from St. Andrews’ Evangelical and Crossroads Churches also rallied around them.

Fatima and her boys worked hard to overcome language barriers, transportation challenges, and Fatima’s chronic pain. Her youngest learned English at daycare; her middle son made the B honor roll; and her oldest landed a job at a restaurant, quickly advancing to Chef. Fatima juggled her hotel housekeeping job, doctors’ appointments, and occasional classes, while stoking dreams of finding a better job and buying a house.

Spending time with them was a joy. I especially loved when four-year-old Mosen would run toward me, then throw his arms around my neck. I loved taking him to the splash pad where he raced through the shoots of water and to the park where he fearlessly scaled the playground equipment. One day, while his mother, another friend, and I sipped tea in their living room, he jumped from the couch to the floor and zoomed around the room with the construction trucks I had brought him.  I couldn’t have imagined that would be the last time I would ever see him.

Only three days later, circumstances that could only be described as the perfect storm, took Mosen from this earth. She had already suffered unspeakable pain, but this was like no other pain she had ever experienced. Her heart was pierced through.  “Everything else can be fixed,” she would tell me later. “Not this.”

At Fatima’s request, a local mosque organized a funeral, welcoming both Muslims and non-Muslims to mourn with the family. That day, the wails of a shattered mother and the sight of her falling on her son’s grave were seared into our minds.

Fatima could not return to her apartment without her boisterous little boy there. So, volunteers packed and stored their things for them. OneMaker donors responded to appeals to cover funeral clothes, an

apartment deposit, and an airline ticket for Fatima’s friend from Memphis, also a refugee. And, a local family hosted them while they grieved and searched for a new apartment.

They moved two weeks later, but more crises came—floodwaters that displaced them again, and a serious car accident. Again, God’s people rushed to their side, to move them, to take them to the hospital, to handle insurance claims. When the oldest son told refugee friends about it in other parts of the U.S., they marveled. They were alone, they said.

I was proud of God’s people here, but saddened by his friends’ experience, though not surprised—only eight percent of churches in America are involved in serving refugees locally[3]. Refugees who have been displaced from their homelands by war and persecution often find closed doors, or closed hearts, among the countries where they seek asylum. Because of recent terrorist attacks around the world, peace-loving refugees fear a misplaced backlash against them, or even being sent back.

At the Gilbert Peach Festival last year, a man thrust a publication into my hands. The more I read, the more upset I become. It painted refugees with a broad brush stroke—as dangerous. The author clearly didn’t know Fatima, or any of refugee families I knew. Of the current negative attitudes towards refugees, Fatima said, “We are human. Our blood bleeds red.”

Whatever our views on immigration policy, my prayer is that followers of Jesus would rally around the biblical mandate to love the strangers already among us—who are also sometimes orphans and widows—so that in us, they will find a safe haven of friendship and love.

Jana Harp Dean is the founder and director of OneMaker, a 501c3, nonprofit organization that helped vulnerable women and girls around the world by launching and developing business ventures in places like Afghanistan, India, and Kenya, and by providing educational sponsorships for girls. Visit www.OneMaker.com to learn more or make a donation. Also, find us on Facebook (OneMaker) or Twitter: @OneMaker.

[1] Names have been changed.

[2] Reference to inscription on Statue of Liberty.

[3] 2016 LifeWay Research Survey

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