By Sheldon & Ashley Martin
Who is my neighbor? Have you found yourself asking this question? The world we live in is divided into so many categories that we easily get swept into the idea that we are confined to a certain ethnicity, political party, geographic location, or the various other categories we could add to the list. Have we become so earthly-minded and agenda-driven that we struggle to truly look at people the way God looks at people, and therefore incorrectly identify who our neighbor really is?
Perhaps we have thought that our neighbor is anyone who lives next door, but what if I told you that while that is true, your neighbor is also the orphaned child living 6,000 miles away, the widow three doors down, or the refugee family who recently moved locally? Ephesians 4:1-3 reads:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Christ has asked us to live out our calling with peace, humility, gentleness, and love. God has called each one of us to reach out to our neighbors and care for the hurting.
Recently God opened the doors for tens of thousands of Afghan refugees to be resettled across the United States. We now have many Afghan families living locally, to all of us! This gives us the perfect opportunity to live out our calling as Christians by showing these friends peace in the midst of their worlds being turned upside down, by showing them gentleness and love, and ultimately being the hands and feet of Jesus. A number of volunteers from our church, Parkview Mennonite Church, along with other Martindale District congregations, have come together to work with Church World Services to provide teams to walk alongside the refugee families as they adjust to life in the United States. Let us paint a picture of what this has looked like.
The day before Thanksgiving, we received news that a family of seven was set to fly into Harrisburg airport on December 1, 2021. The refugee family would live with a host family from our church. It was our team’s responsibility to provide any needed furniture, toiletries, food, car seats, or other essential items. The excitement was high as we planned to get things ready. The only information we had were their ages and gender: four girls and one boy, ages one to fifteen. We did not know if they would speak any English, what would they be like, what experiences they had gone through, or what they were feeling.
On the evening of December 1, our team drove to the airport to meet and pick them up! Many prayers were sent heavenward, on their behalf, as we realized just how big and overwhelming this would be to all of them! We waited by the baggage claim, holding our homemade welcome sign, and feeling a little anxious at meeting these dear souls for the first time. Soon we saw them arrive, with only a few bags holding all of their life possessions. The first meeting was precious, anointed by God, and ordained by His hands. God brought these exact souls into our lives for a purpose. Although they were strangers to us, it felt oddly like we had known them for a long time.
That night the refugee family was so grateful to learn that we would all be there for them. We would be their friends and walk alongside them. The oldest daughter spoke some English, which was a huge blessing! On the ride home that night the daughter said in her broken English, with deep emotion, “We thought we would be all alone. We were so scared, but then we saw all of you and now we are so happy, thank you!” Tears filled my eyes at the realization of the magnitude of heartbreak these refugees had faced. We would offer them hope and help them piece their lives back together.
Now, a few months later, this refugee family has become some of our dearest friends. Our team has had the privilege of driving them to many doctors, dentists, and other various appointments. We helped them navigate grocery stores, guided them in becoming renters of their own houses, and helped them furnish their homes. We watched the children begin school and supported their families as they adjusted to new schedules. We celebrated with the father as he started his first job in the USA. We have enjoyed countless meals of rice, biryani, and naan on the floor, Afghani style. Our children have become good friends with their children, despite not knowing the same language.
We walked with them and listened as they poured out their hearts about life’s disappointments, as they shared how difficult it is to be missing their family and loved ones back home. We laughed with them as we encountered language interpretation mishaps and other silly cultural differences. We also learned a lot about their religion, Islam, the many different times of day that they pray, what halal meat is, and the five pillars of their faith. We listened to much of their life story, but most importantly, we shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them. While they are not yet at a place where they believe Christ died for their sins, it is our hope that someday they will realize this. By faith, we believe we are called to prepare the soil and plant the seed, which God will transform into a beautiful, vibrant fruit! The father of the refugee family asked us, “Why do you do all of this, for us?” We replied, “Because God has asked us to.”
We choose to live out God’s call on our lives. To care for our neighbors with peace, gentleness, love, and kindness. The neighbors in this story are an Afghan refugee family. Who is the neighbor in your story? Ephesians 4:32 reads:
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Brothers and sisters, let us be tenderhearted and allow the gift that Christ has given us, to spur us on to reach out to our neighbors, offering the love of Christ to all!