Wednesday, I received a phone call asking if we would be willing to host a family of four that had been residing in Sudan, after fleeing from Eritrea. That's the only information we had. We knew there were no known risks to having them stay, so we pounced at the chance to open our basement up to someone who needed it. We only bought this house with the intended purpose to be able to house people that needed a place to stay. And after a year of having a basement given only to laundry and films, we were very ready to have someone stay.
I spent two days cleaning the cobwebs, bleaching the mold, vacuuming the cat hair, planning a menu, sourcing spare clothing, and creating a warm atmosphere. Dave left Friday to pick them up from Cardiff and we eagerly awaited their arrival.
And now, they have been here for about 24 hours and I am reflecting on their stay. I can't muster up lots of take-away points. But I can let this very brief experience shape and mold my mind and heart and priorities.
Christians having been fleeing out of Eritrea for years. Most people would have no idea Eritrea was even a country. But turns out, this small country in Africa ranks #10 on the Open Doors Watch List for severe persecution of Christians. Persecution still abounds, contributing to the refugee crisis. Let's take ourselves out of the media revolving around refugees and remember. Remember that if we were being persecuted, our families were being persecuted, we would push every possible door until we found safety.
Children are beautiful. Their two children playing with our children is one of the most beautiful sights to see. Language is no matter. Colour is no matter. Background is no matter. They just want to play with blocks and trucks and balls. Sweet acceptance of a person that may be completely unlike you in every way. Jesus had it right when he taught his disciples about the value of children. Their world is one not yet marred by racism and hatred. But a world of naivety and purity and curiosity.
May I be more like a child. More like my Hudson - minus his tantrums. And he turns three tomorrow. My boy is growing up. How can I foster an attitude of love in him when everyone else is shouting at him to hate? How I can I teach my aging boy to stay a boy in some ways as he becomes a man in others? Because he is beautiful at two years old. Children are a gift.
Refugees don't always need stuff. I should have thought more. Before our guests arrived, I collected bags of clothes and toiletries for them. I thought, surely they will have nothing and need everything. But I didn't think. I didn't think that they have been living in Sudan for 10 years, and while they may not have much, they do have necessities. And I didn't think that after they leave us tomorrow, they will have to tote all of their luggage around Cardiff to apply for housing. Then they will be placed in temporary housing for a short time. Then they will be put into a longer term housing. But then they could very well be transferred to yet another home or city. They will be moving around a lot. And having extra stuff could be a nuisance. I just didn't think. And I didn't think that possibly, it could be overwhelming or offensive to offer lots of hand-me-down items. I would never want them to feel that we have a perception of them as being the "poor pitiful refugees". They are beautiful, intelligent, and resourceful human beings. But again, I just didn't think. But refugees don't always need more stuff. They need a warm home. With food. With a bed. With heat. With tea. And maybe an occasional hello from the American upstairs.
Parenting styles around the world are varied. We had found a single bed and baby bed for the weekend as they have a five year-old and an 18 month-old. Yet, turns out, they all slept in the same room, on the same bed. They eat their meals with their hands, children in their laps, and do not mind if the kids don't eat all their dinner before having chocolate. They stay up very late and wake up very late. They laugh with their kids, play with their kids, and yet, maintain order with their kids.
I find it funny that I spend so much time researching how to get my baby to sleep through the night (or even more than one hour at a time), how to entertain my bored toddler, how to get them to eat more than bread and cheese, and how to stop breastfeeding. But so much of my parenting expectations are set by society. So I would do better to ask...what works for my family? Not my neighbour, or Netmums, or the NHS. But works for Hudson and Isaiah? To take a chill pill and realise that the most important thing is that my boys grow up knowing that they are loved and are to be lovers of other people. Because all around the world, those are the best parents. Those parents that passionately love their kids. And this family does. This man paved the way for his babies and wife to come to the UK. He was alone for two years, longing to see his stunning wife and boy and baby that he hadn't even met. And she was a single mother for two years, raising the children without a father for the hope that she could provide them a better life in the UK. They are passionate about their kids. They are good parents.
People are people. No matter where we are from. No matter our background. We are all people. We all enjoy eating around the dinner table. We all love a place to call home. We all appreciate some form of work. We all value meaningful relationships. We all need love and stability and meaning in life. This weekend has reminded me. This mother and father and brother and sister are not just "those refugees". They are people. Real people. With stories and likes and dislikes and quirks. They are not to be feared. They are not to be rejected. They are not to be shunned. Because they are just like us. People.
We hope to host another family. Another many families.
And this short weekend has reminded Dave and I that life is best when it is lived to love others.