And then I get a phone call Sunday morning while I'm at church.
The father of one of the families of refugees I worked with beat up his wife horribly and then committed suicide. Children's Services took the kids and now they'll be in the foster care system, which scares me to think of them being separated and having do deal with a whole new level of stress.
It's been about six months since I quit volunteering and working with the kids on Saturdays and tutoring them three nights a week during the school year. It was an incredible year of my life that opened up a world to me and I learned a lot about a culture very different from my own and hopefully did some good.
But being immersed in their lives and culture also meant that I had gotten in way over my head, found that in typical Western world fashion I'd become someone that enables rather than someone that empowers and life got crazy for me personally and I got burned out.
This news didn't come as a surprise to me because this was one of the families that was struggling the most in so many ways. The kids were having a hard time in school and last summer I had to get a social worker involved last summer because of a slumlord they were renting from. 9 people in the top of a single turned into a double, with a foot of water in the basement that smelled horrible.
I think about this woman with a broken body who's been to hell and back countless times and wondering what will happen to these kids and wishing I could do something that would make everything ok but all I think I'll be able to do is go and visit her at the hospital tonight, try to stumble through my Swahili and just be there. I've been able to find out that she'll survive this, though she isn't speaking at all right now, and that the kids are in Columbus. I hope they're not separated from each other, there's 7 of them aged 3 to about 15.
It seems like we have this skewed way of looking at those who live among us as strangers and refugees, speaking different languages and doing things differently than how we do. Either it's a fear or a distance because they are "other" or some of the more socially conscious can sometimes be guilty of looking on with pity or elevating them to some level of sainthood for being born in the wrong place or the wrong time.
Or we think that the struggle ends when they get here, but here also means unemployment, discrimination, cultural clashes, isolation, and often heavy alcoholism in a profoundly economically depressed city in dangerous neighborhoods where they're especially vulnerable. It's hard to learn a new language when you've never been in school and can't read in your own language.
I was reading through the Psalms last night and marveling at how God cares about those who are strangers, those who are fatherless, those who have lost. I hope that Mari and the kids get a sense of that.
"You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more."