The Iftar menu that was spread across the little table was far more than I had expected. Only months before, my new friends had fled their war-torn country and were making the most of the rooftop space that had been offered them—for a fee, of course—by the apartment owner. Even sitting on a make-shift couch under a tarp, one could feel peaceful watching the sun set in the city smog, far above the clutter of the streets below.
At first conversation was easy enough. They warmly welcomed us, explained the menu, the meaning of Ramadan, how it was celebrated in their country. They admitted it could never be the same without home, family, the warmth of gathering from home to home.
After we finished eating, we were invited down a dark stairwel to another makeshift home, this one on a balcony, where we met more of the extended family. Hoses and electric cords snaked through an open window into the “indoor” apartment. A tattered awning gave hopeful protection from the elements. A small television sat precariously on the top of a plastic storage cabinet.
My hosts were cordial but shy. They politely tried to stretch from their world to mine. When there seemed to be little more to say, the television was always there, the flicker of changing scenes grabbing the attention of my hosts. Between the language barrier, the life differences, and the distractions, the exchanges were sporadic, even awkward.
“Lord, I’m here for a reason. I’m a foreigner to my hosts. I might even be a bit intimidating. But they have given me their best; they want to be polite. Show me how to be a part of their world.”
With that prayer, I began watching television too. I didn’t understand the script or the plot. The melodramatic acting would have ordinarily made me chuckle. But my hosts weren’t laughing.
Ministry. It means to step into another person’s world.
Because children are often less intimidated by foreigners than grownups are, I turned to the ten-year-old boy sitting nearby on a plastic chair. “This story is very serious, yes?”
His eyes widened and in his best English he responded with pride, “It be of [our country].”
Instinctively I knew that his answer explained everything. “So this is like being back home in [your country], then, isn’t it?”
Before the little fellow could answer any further, the uncle leaning on a balcony post straightened up and gave me a spontaneous, but detailed movie review. The teen-age brother across the makeshift coffee table introduced the main actors to me.
Soon every adult in the room was engaged. The television series was a national sensation—in their country. The actors were folk heroes—in their country. The plot was set in the history of—their country. The filming used to be done—in their country. A bomb had destroyed the filming set—in their country. At first the actors were brave and wanted to defy the destruction and continue filming—in their country. Now, because of the ravages of war, the movie was being produced in a safer place.
Each explanation was packed with emotion, national pride, homesickness. No small talk now. Like a relative they’d never met before, but certainly in answer to my prayer, I heard the memories of their country come alive. Small, tattered photos emerged from pockets and wallets, each with a story. A father who had been killed in peace. A nephew who had died in war. Of lost homes, closed businesses, nerve-wracking escape.
As we parted that night, sensing the bonding we all had experienced, I took both hands of my hostess. My heart was full. “I thank God that He has kept you and brought you here. He has been merciful to you. He will continue to be with you.” It was not a deep study in the nature of God; it was a simple declaration of the obvious. It carried all the meaning of who He really is to the wandering, uprooted refugee.
Just as meaningful to me: He had answered my prayer. I had been drawn into their world. I could trust He had been present. That He had revealed Himself. And that He had brought a sense of comfort and security. --KL