Monday, January 21, 2013

Last night at the business meeting ...

a young man, a refugee from the DRC, joined our church.  I'll just call him B.

This is how he came to be here.  It is a story that is told time and again by those who must leave their homes because of civil war and national strife, religious persecution, and other circumstances that most of us in this country will never, ever face.

B left his home when soldiers burned it.  His parents were killed and the rest of his family dispersed. He carried his sister, who had broken bones, through the forest to a place where they met a priest.  They were offered the opportunity to go to a refugee camp in Burundi, but fearing further violence there, they opted to walk the 250 kilometers to a refugee camp in Tanzania.  When they arrived at the camp, they were reunited for a time with their younger brothers.  But only for a time. B's sister and subsequently, his younger brothers disappeared from the camp.  He has never found them, has no idea if they are still alive and if so, where they are.

Somehow, through the work of the UNHCR and the providence of God, our friend arrived last spring in Charlotte.  He visited a church at that time but had a hard time understanding the English.  He had been warned by a someone in the refugee camp that not all churches in America really worshiped God.  He was nervous and skeptical.

One day last summer, as he stood outside at his apartment complex, a young man approached B and began a casual conversation with him.  The young man had a book,  a Bible, under his arm.  B asked what the book was and when he found out it was a Bible, he asked if the young man was a Christian.  Their conversation was halting because our friend was still quite a beginner at speaking English, but it became clear to him that this young man was someone he could trust.  The young man invited him church.  The next Sunday, the young man went and picked him up.  After the young man went back to college in the fall, others picked up where he'd left off.  They helped B find a job, visited him, picked him up for church every Sunday, invited him for meals, helped him with his English, became his friends.

Last night at the church business meeting, B told this story.  He also said that on that very first Sunday that he visited the church, he was happy because the pastor spoke very good English.  (At this point in the telling of his story last night, we all laughed, happy to know that our pastor speaks good English.  Really, what B meant was that the pastor spoke slowly and clearly enough, methodically working his way through the Bible text so that B could follow and tell, really tell, that our pastor was speaking about Jesus).

During the fellowship time after church that  Sunday, many people greeted B and spoke to him of Jesus.   He was happy that a couple of French speakers in our church conversed with him in that language in which he is fluent.  He has come nearly every Sunday since then ... because, well, this is a place, he said, where the people speak of Jesus and desire to live like him.  Praying, endeavoring, aiming to live out His life, to be His hands and feet and arms of love.

B has found a home.  And we have met a new brother.

The truth is that we received and continue to receive, far more than we have given as we have befriended  B.  With his growing vocabulary, the songs he has spontaneously sung during the coffee hour, the smile on his face, the boldness he displays, he teaches us so much about the love of Christ, the providence of God, the fellowship of suffering, the hope that is ours. His perseverance through trials we cannot imagine shows us the shallowness of many of our complaints.  His tenacity and courage in living through a horror we only read about makes many of our fears seem silly and small.  His confidence in God's provision, his eagerness to tell people about Jesus - in his apartment complex, at the grocery store, at the bus stop - remind us how easily we are distracted from the privilege of sharing our joy in Christ by the comforts of this life that we enjoy.

I think our little body of believers is looking more and more like the eternal kingdom of God.  Barriers of language, culture, and experience are coming down bit by bit with every B we come to know.  The beauty of Christ in all his fullness is reflected just a little more as we welcome those who look and speak differently, whose lives are a far cry from our mostly suburban homogeneity.

Welcome, B.  We are very thankful to God for you.



Lisa said...

Wow. Amazing story. What a gift to have him in your church, and for him to have you. Hope we can meet him one day.

Laura A said...

Ah, this reminds me of our church! I don't know of any stories quite this harrowing, but some approach it. I have been privileged to get to know such an international group of believers.