A Community of Welcome
The first time I visited Clarkston, I felt right at home. Known as “the most diverse square mile in America,” the small community on the outskirts of Atlanta has been a hub for refugee resettlement. I’d lived in the Middle East and experienced unparalleled warmth and hospitality there. I immediately felt that same sense of welcome in the community made up of 40% foreign-born residents. I wanted to be a part of that kind of community. My husband and I immediately sought out information about how we could help, but we had no idea how we ourselves would be helped.
We went through training to become volunteers with World Relief, not sure what to expect. We heard the statistics about how most immigrants aren’t invited into an American home for years, if ever. We shared our desire to show the love of God in practical ways to our neighbors with members of our church, and a few families signed up to join us. Our small team of volunteers was paired with a family of ten that would be arriving soon from Afghanistan.
Welcome to America
We stepped back to check our progress, making the final touches on the apartment. It was sparsely furnished and small, but it looked ready. We’d been given a list of items that newly resettled refugees need in their homes just to get started. Local thrift stores and church members pitched in and made sure we had couches and lamps, pans and mattresses, and everything on that little list. Their flight would arrive in just a few days and we wanted everything to be just right.
I couldn’t imagine eight children, one just a few months old, living in the two-bedroom apartment. But then I tried to imagine what life had been like in the place the family was leaving, and that was even further from my understanding. Why had they fled? Were their lives in danger in the war-torn country? I took one last look around the queen size bed that took up most of the bedroom, leaving just enough room for the pack-n-play that would be the baby bed. I couldn’t wait to meet the family that would call this place home.
A Welcoming Hand
Laughter wafted through the house, like the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the tiny kitchen. Two of the ten children in the apartment—eight of theirs and two of ours—sat at my feet cutting construction paper into flowers and butterflies. We didn’t get to visit as often as we liked after the first couple of months of helping them get settled in, but it was always a day full of good food, conversation, and joy when we did. Our daughter, Nadia, and their daughter, Hadia, were fast friends—just a few months apart with names that sounded almost identical in their Arabic origins.
I excused myself when I heard the baby crying upstairs. Was there something I could do to help? I peeked my head into the bedroom, trying to see if he was unattended in the pack-n-play. I laughed out loud when I saw the empty crib moved to the side and his mother instead rocking him in a long piece of cloth hanging from in the corner of the room like a baby hammock. I’d seen mothers in South Asia rocking their babies the same way. How strange this apartment and all these new things must seem to a family that never needed them.
We’d come to extend a welcoming hand to them and they had extended it right back. They also opened our eyes and our hearts. We would never again see the world—or our places in it—the same way after getting to know them.
Find out more about getting involved in your local community with World Relief. You can join them in restoring hope and rebuilding communities of love and welcome. For other opportunities to join us in welcome, join our private Facebook group where we share opportunities to learn, serve, and advocate.