Yesterday I watched as worlds collided.
A wealthy group of Americans delivered Christmas gifts to an African family who just arrived to our land of plenty.
Adopt-a-Family is a program facilitated through my refugee resettlement workplace. Refugee families who are experiencing their first Christmas in the U.S. are “adopted” by sponsors, who purchase items from a wish list assembled with the help of their case manager. Typical refugee wish lists include everything from microwaves and socks to bicycles and barbie dolls.
One of the most exclusive schools in Houston adopted many families this year; each classroom purchased an impressive collection and it lifted my heart to see their hallway filled with gifts for needy families.
I accompanied a few fifth grade students and their parents as we excitedly loaded two SUVs full of packages and drove to one of the poorest neighborhoods in Houston to deliver our bounty.
I tried to explain what a refugee is while a very stressed-out mom threatened to pull over the Mercedes if the children didn’t stop fighting over who was eating more European chocolate in the back seat. Just as I felt how keenly their childhood was from my own, we began to compare knee scars and discuss Katy Perry (we agreed her older songs are way better).
When we arrived, we were greeted in true African fashion: with hugs all around, mango juice thrust into our hands, and lots of “God Bless You!”s and “Karibu Sana!” (you are very welcome here). This American girl felt very confused as a pang of homesickness for East Africa washed over me.
I was so proud of my Congolese friends, who have been through so much. They’ve endured threats on their lives because they were born into the wrong tribe. They’ve fled from machetes under the cover of night. And here they were, spreading joy to the privileged and proclaiming the kingdom of God. “By the hand of the God who is good, we escaped!” they exclaimed joyfully to the agnostic anesthesiologist and the stressed-out, stay-at-home mom.
Wide-eyed, the children listened as the proud African mother listed her eight living children, and two dead long ago. “God has surely blessed you,” I replied.
We sat in her bare living room and Zaheri's* face lit up as she told her fellow mamas how thankful she is to be here in America, “where no one will stop you from working to feed your children.” Her four-year-old son bounced excitedly as he tore open brightly-colored gift after gift, his brown eyes growing larger by the minute.
We spoke of our families, and we realized that while our stories may be different, we have common threads among us all: love for our children, hope for the future, the joy of family gathered at Christmas.
And as I sat, facilitating the conversation with my very poor KiSwahili, my heart filled and the Holy Spirit whispered: “I am Lord of them All.”
And I was thankful. Thankful as I remembered that God is even now at work, drawing each of us to himself.
None of us are left alone - not those frightened in the dark forests of the Congo. Not those in the wealthy desert of upscale American neighborhoods. Not even me, when my to do list buries my intentions to celebrate each day of Advent thoughtfully.
The Lord of them All send his Son .... his perfect, fully human son, born of the most humble circumstances.
When he drew his first cry somewhere in Bethlehem, it all changed for us. And when he drew his last breath on a humble cross, he saved us all.
He changed it for us all, and he made our particular darkness light -- For the African mother. For the stay-at-home mom. For the fifth grader with the skinned knee. For me. For you. And for all you love.
It is, indeed, a Merry Christmas.
*Zaheri was excited to have her photograph taken, but her name has been changed, and some faces have been blurred to protect these women and children.