The Power of a Welcoming Heart | World Relief Chicago

This past Saturday started out as most Saturdays do.
A wee bit of sleeping in.
Laundry train rolling.
A quick trip to the grocery store,
keeping alive the little people in my life.
Chore list divvied up,
followed quickly by griping.

Once the home front was on task,
I had the joy of grabbing my camera bag,
heading out the front door,
on Chicago's Northeast side,
to tell the story,
through my camera,
of the power of a welcoming heart.
As World Relief Chicago volunteers
and their connected refugee families trickled in,
there was laughter
and joy.
Deep connection
and hope.
For me personally,
there was a feeling of deep gratitude
for being given the honor and privilege of
capturing connections in that room

Profound connections abounded,
- most of which were built in a very short time -
some probably almost instantaneously.

There's something so beautifully raw and hopeful
in sharing the gift of simply welcoming someone into your family.
I know it has changed my family's life to
welcome in a refugee family.
And it was evident,
yet again,
that it was happening here in the multi-purpose
room of a church that intentionally said yes to caring for the
most vulnerable in our world.

The craft table was abuzz,
with stickers and markers
and artists creating masterpieces.
Jenna met her family 5 weeks earlier (I believe),
and the bond was sweet and strong.
Those precious littles couldn't get enough of Jenna.
They looked for her guidance in whether they were doing things right.
They asked for her help in pulling off stickers.
They proudly showed her their finished artwork,
looking for the affirmation of an auntie.
They freely gave her hugs and smiles,
while Mum and Dad had the freedom to
sit at a table visiting with others.
Jenna was 
all in,
loving on those kids.
As I parent myself,
I can say with confidence, 
that when others love my kids,
a strong connection is built.

Later I wandered over to one of the other refugee families
and their volunteer host,
and introduced myself.
That particular family had been here in America a little over a month.
They fled Syria.

Lump in throat.

 No longer a statistic.
No longer a face on a screen.
No longer a story on the news.

The atrocities of a war-torn land.
The little boy washed up on shore.
The mothers and fathers in the boats
desperately trying to keep their babies alive.
Begging a watching world to help.

And that's when I felt my heart break.
Yet again.

The loss they've experienced is immeasurable
and overwhelming
and I just wanted to wrap the sweet older gentleman
up in my arms and weep alongside him.

Our world is broken.
So broken.
And while I sit in the comfort of my
Chicago home,
families are being torn apart
day after day.

And in the moment,
at a complete loss for words,
I quietly whispered,
"I'm so so sorry for your loss.
And I want you to know that I am so glad you made
it here to America and I welcome you here."

Nothing profound.
Just a listening ear
and a welcoming heart.
Which, it turns out,
are both simple,
yet profound gifts to give.

His kind-hearted eyes said it all.
Deep sadness brought on by great loss.
Yet a flicker of hope for new beginnings.

I asked him about his volunteer host, 
standing beside him,
and with a huge smile and pride in his voice, 
he proclaimed,
"We meet one month ago and she was stranger.
Now she my family."
His volunteer vigorously shook her head in agreement,
knowing he spoke truth.

They joked and she poked fun at his age, saying,
"Are you my grandfather?"
To which he replied, shaking his head,
with a belly laugh,
"No! NO!

Simply beautiful.
A gal I'd guess to be in her 20s or early 30s,
said yes to coming alongside a refugee family,
being kind and offering hope,
simply by welcoming strangers into her life and heart.
Walking away from this beautiful story,
I couldn't hold back the tears.
While we have no comprehension 
the level of loss that refugees feel and experience,
and while our words,
sometimes lost in translation,
might not mean much,
we CAN welcome.
And we CAN love.
And we CAN share our hearts.
I am 100% convinced that there is great power in a welcoming heart
and there's absolutely no denying it.
I've seen it.
I've experienced it.

Isaiah 58 says we are to
 “Loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Share your food with the hungry,
    provide the poor wanderer with shelter
when you see the naked, to clothe them.
  If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday."

May it be said of us,
at the end of our lives,
that we SPENT ourselves
on behalf of the vulnerable!


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