Last year as we emerged from pandemic paranoia, we decided it was time to scratch our ever-spreading itch to travel. But with the state of chaos and devastation in our world lately, we felt we had to do something to ease the pain of those around us on our home turf first. As we threw our proverbial stone into the giant lake of desperate need we had no idea how or where the ripples would travel, but we knew somehow God had a path already set before us. And as the old phrase says, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” As it turned out that path led us to a country on the other side of the world, so unfamiliar and out of our comfort zone we could have never thought it up on our own – Afghanistan.
More correctly, Afghanistan came to us in the form of two refugees, a highly educated and influential couple who were forced to evacuate their homeland with only a small duffle bag, a computer and two cell phones. Married only three days before their escape, they spent their “honeymoon” in a variety of refugee camps for four months from Pakistan to Qatar to an American base in the States before finally settling in Denver.
When we picked H & H (to protect their identities) from the airport in Denver, they looked shell-shocked, and I wondered how difficult it was going to be to help them feel safe and welcome. We had previously been educated and briefed by the agency in Denver that dealt with most of the refugee relocations from Afghanistan, so we understood that they would need a temporary place to live but more importantly, friends willing to mentor them through the mind boggling task of adapting and settling into a completely different culture. Coupled with the stress of leaving loved ones behind and wondering about their safety, H & H were overwhelmed. But even through it all, I sensed a resiliency and determination that would soon prove to carry them through it all.
The subject of immigration is loaded with opinions and misinformation about refugees, mostly that they are dirty, uneducated misfortunates fleeing their homeland’s violence and poverty. The second part is true and distinguishes refugees (those who are forced to flee) from immigrants (those who choose to resettle.) But refugees come in all shapes and sizes. The most vulnerable are the poor, uneducated, elderly and of course, the children. Then there are the professionals, educated, and reasonably financially secure who find themselves in a situation they never could have imagined. War is no respecter of social class. And while there are many considerations in opening up our home and hearts to strangers we felt called not to judge, but to simply care.
Our journey to Afghanistan’s culture through the eyes of our new Muslim friends gave us the opportunity to learn new levels of acceptance and beauty, cuisine and storytelling. We have often said that we can’t tell who is more blessed, them or us. Either way, tragedy has brought us together and the human heart has prevailed.
All this happened as we were dreaming about our two months abroad this spring. We had connected with a small church in Munich in 2019 where we were invited to live life and serve the community there. And then Covid hit and derailed our plans. Finally in 2022, things looked as if they were opening up across Europe, and we quickly made plans to travel to Germany with a few fun side trips interspersed in between. Our plans to serve in the Munich church took on new meaning when Putin’s war hit and we realized we may yet again be put in a position of caring for refugees fleeing the destruction and trauma of their lives in Ukraine.
So, these next few blog posts will bring you along with us through the Netherlands, Germany, Greece and Wales as we find meaning and fun in a fragile world of different cultures filled with people who really just all want the same thing – Peace expressing itself through smiles and laughter, song and dance, food and fellowship of friends and strangers.