Scott and I worked together in Uganda and South Sudan.
This is so well-written I felt led to share.
This week’s Refugee Encounter
By Scott W.
I showed up early, like usual, placed coins in the parking meter and proceeded inside.
I looked up his flight information on the screen to see if his flight was delayed or on time.
It was on time so I found a seat and waited in the arrivals area where everyone must pass.
I made a sign to greet him, not that he could read it or I couldn’t recognize someone like him coming, but it was standard procedure.
People walk by, some on business, some for vacation and some back from visiting family.
He was coming for a different reason.
I spotted him from far off, he looked different and like someone coming from that area of the world.
He was traveling with an escort and I approached them.
It was obvious I was there for them and I was the one they were supposed to meet.
We exchanged greetings, but had a little difficulty.
Partly because I don’t think he was expecting me to talk to him in his language and partly due to his hearing problem.
We proceeded downstairs to collect his luggage.
He stood there smiling and excited with anticipation of what this new place, new land, would be like.
His bags didn’t come out on the conveyor belt with everyone else’s.
I got his baggage receipt and we proceeded to the office where we found his bags waiting.
A small plastic bag he’s carrying and two checked pieces of luggage are all he has as he starts his new life in this new land.
The representative signed him over to me, said his goodbye and left.
It was just him and me now.
We carried the bags out the door and loaded them in the car.
He asks where he’ll be living.
I tell him the city.
He asks if it’s pretty. A fairly common question of people like him arriving to their new home and having never been here before.
I tell him it is.
He asks where I live and I tell him not far from him in a nearby town.
He’s inquisitive and excited about his new home.
I explain to him that he’ll have roommates.
He looks concerned, sad and even scared.
I tell him where they are from and his sadness and uneasiness increases.
He was expecting a place to himself.
He starts tearing up.
He uses what few English words he knows and tries to talk to me but I encourage him to talk in his native language.
He keeps trying to hold back tears.
I try to console him.
He grabs my arm to embrace a few times during different points.
I tell him it will be ok and he can share his concerns with someone later about the living situation.
I encourage him to drink the bottle of water I brought for him because the journey was long and he’s no doubt thirsty and tired.
He drinks the whole bottle in a matter of seconds.
We depart the airport and head towards his new home.
The ride is nice.
We talk about the green grass and the trees full of leaves.
He asks to wear the extra pair of sunglasses I have.
I tell him yes.
He puts them on and smiles.
He looks over at me as if asking how he looks and I give him a thumbs up.
We ride some more.
We approach the area of town where his apartment is.
A little rough around the edges, but suitable.
Affordable housing is hard to find.
I stop by the office, ask which building is his and we proceed on.
We pull up.
He looks disappointed.
He still has that scared, lonely look in his eyes about the unknown.
We carry his bags and look for his apartment.
He walks closely to me, like a child in a new area with their parent.
We find his place.
We knock on the door.
A man of a different nationality answers.
His English is ok, but he doesn’t speak the language of my new friend.
We are in the right place.
The one who does speak some of the language is not there, but will return soon.
We go inside.
The man leads us to my new friend’s room.
The loneliness and unfamiliarity of the new place sinks in even more.
He fights back tears again.
A box of new linens, towels and toiletries have been provided.
We make his bed.
Two men share the other room and he has his own room.
He asks about a lock for his room.
It has a lock, but only an interior door lock.
Not one with a key.
He’s already concerned about his security and the security of his few possessions in this new place.
He’s anxious again.
He invites me to sit on his bed.
He grabs my arm, maybe my hand.
Doesn’t bother me.
I’m used to this.
Men where he’s from embrace close friends differently than men here.
I consider it an honor.
He breaks down sobbing.
It has become too much for him.
The voice inside of me is saying I know someone who will never leave you.
Someone you can take refuge in.
Someone who will meet your deepest needs.
Now is not the time.
Hopefully I can share with him about this person one day.
Right now he just needs a hand.
A shoulder to cry on.
There we are.
The other roommate who speaks some of his language is soon to return.
We move to the living room.
We wait some more.
He keeps me close.
He firmly grasps my arm.
As if saying, “I’m still scared, don’t leave me yet.”
The roommate who speaks some of his language returns.
He speaks to my friend in his native language.
He looks confused.
Perhaps his hearing aid is turned down too low.
I assure him he’s speaking his language.
He finally realizes it is his language.
He has lots of questions.
I listen and explain more where needed.
He understands more.
My new friend is still sad.
The new roommates try to be welcoming and understanding.
They were new once.
Actually both still are.
Both of them are learning too.
My friend asks about a clothes washer.
There is a dishwasher in the apartment, but none of them know what it’s for.
I explain what a dishwasher is.
There isn’t a washing machine.
The roommates tell him where they wash their clothes.
He’s still lonely and scared.
Finally, he voices the fact that he doesn’t know anyone or have any family here.
We tell him we are here for him.
The roommates say they will treat him like family.
I say I live not far away.
He starts opening up.
He has questions about various things.
We all walk to the bathroom.
He asks where the sprayer is.
Where he’s from they have, what my family affectionately refers to as, a butt sprayer.
I explain there isn’t one.
It’s not common here.
I explain we use only toilet paper.
He looks at me confounded, but then smiles.
We all laugh about it.
He seems to be relaxing more.
We talk about various other things.
We start to go outside together.
He grabs my hand.
I tell him I must go.
He is reluctant to let go of my hand.
It’s hard to leave, but I do.
He has many hard days ahead.
He doesn’t speak the language and he is hard of hearing.
Finding a job will be difficult.
I’ll check up on him and so will others.
This is just the start of his new life, new journey in this land.
I hope he finds new life.
New life in the one who creates, gives and sustains life.
I pray that day comes.
Until then, I pray.
I am a friend to him and others like him.
Thankful to my Savior.
Scott for the Whittakers