I was a tad annoyed when this family invaded our small infusion room. Although the rooms have two treatment chairs, my daughter and I had the room to ourselves on our previous visits. We had just settled in for a few hours of solitude – our books out and IV’s in place and running. Our room was private, quiet, and comfortable.
A little how I like life: private, quiet, comfortable.
This was an unwelcome disruption.
The refugee woman bounded through the door in a disorderly fashion, holding one toddler in the crook of her arm and leading another with her open hand. She was barking a foreign language in a fruitless effort to control her boys. Her gown of material cascaded haphazardly to the floor while her head scarf was tilted at an awkward angle. She frequently pushed the head scarf back in place while adjusting her wiggling toddler.
They were loud, very loud. Disrupting our calm, meditative atmosphere. The two young boys intermittently cried or banged toys against the wall. The translator followed the mother around their tiny portion of the room – reiterating at top volume every word a doctor, nurse, or social worker said. It was a two-way conversation between 3 people – and I watched this madness while words were literally ‘lost in translation.’
The woman was fresh from her war-torn country of Somalia and her 4 year old son has a serious blood disorder. I could see she was overwhelmed. She was trying to make sense of a new country and a new disease at the same time – a near impossible task.
The translator tried to explain the doctor’s words as the doctor let the mother know her son needed a specialized bone marrow transplant as soon as possible.
The mother kept saying, “No,” shaking her head over and over.
It took me a few minutes to realize this mother was not saying no because she was fearful of the procedure or because of a refusal to face this tragic situation. She was saying no because she had no one to take care of her younger, 18-month-old son. The transplant would require her to be a permanent fixture to her ailing child for months in a hospital setting while the younger, 18-month-old child would not be welcome due to infection risks.
The social worker explained the necessity for a family member to come help her. Time was of the utmost essence. But the mother’s only family resides in a refugee camp back in Egypt. And they were Somalian. A country on America’s top 7 ‘banned entry’ lists.
The letters requesting her family’s presence were sent – half-way across the globe.
All hope riding on a government allowing just one family member to come temporarily to care for this mother’s healthy child while her sick child was growing closer to death.
The plight of a medical mother – torn between her sick child and well child.
The plight of a refugee – trying to find a haven in the midst of a hostile world.
I was ashamed of my initial reaction. How could I be put-out at the thought of sharing a small space for a small period of time with a family in such desperate conditions?
Oh Lord, purify this heart of mine. Let me see YOUR people through YOUR eyes.
I live around illegal aliens, immigrants, and refugees on a daily basis in the hospital setting. We share the same walls, sleep on the same far-too-small plastic couches, and drink water from the same fountains. Our lives are bonded through the unity of our common denominator – our very ill child.
I have also observed something that certain people may find quite surprising:
The ‘alien’ parent grieves the same way I grieve.
The ‘illegal’ child suffers the same way my child suffers.
The ‘refugee’ prayers are no less fervent than my prayers.
And our God hears ‘immigrant’ cries the same as my own.
It is easy to dehumanize those we do not surround ourselves by. Live in our protected, health-care superior, food-plentiful world and shake a finger at the ‘strangers’ trying to join us.
But if my child was dying, I would do everything within my power to get my sick child to a facility that could help her. In fact, I have spent most of the last 6 ½ years doing that exact thing. The only difference between me and the refugees making the same frantic attempt is that my action is considered noble and heroic while their action is considered criminal and reckless.
A hero or a criminal – ALL BASED UPON THE LOCATION OF OUR BIRTH.
I do not pretend to know a good answer for safety and border patrol. I am certainly not suggesting we throw all borders open without a semblance of a vetting process. And I am praying for our officials’ wisdom in finding an appropriate balance to this problem.
I am suggesting though, that a Christian’s apathy or even worse – a militant attitude against this afflicted group of people – HAS TO STOP.
We can no longer sit back in our world of private, quiet, and comfortable and turn a blind eye to those in need.
We, who were once immigrants, were brought into this land full of milk and honey. And we, who are now residents, must find a way to help our suffering mankind do the same.
“Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.” Proverbs 21:13.
And so, the day of my medical room refugee ‘invasion,’ I got up from the safety of my corner and walked over to the foreign mother asking to hold her 18-month-old. God knows, she needed help. Her son and I played on the floor together loudly banging trucks while I assisted the translator to better understand the medical procedures in order to explain critical details to my new Somalian friend. We talked through fears while my white, unblemished hand held her younger, dark and very weathered hand.
Hours later, when Rebecca and I left, I handed her my information, hugged her family tightly, and prayed for God to strengthen them. Mother to mother we shared tears as we said goodbye.
My small gesture was not enough. Her family needs so very much more. But I pray that at least in that moment my new friend could feel love from a mother who understood what it was like to have a sick child. That she could feel love from an American that was happy to share this bountiful country with her. That she could feel love from one child of God to another child of God.
My unexpected miracle became the interruption of my quiet, private, and comfortable ‘life’ to show me a lesson in compassion for God’s children. Thank you Lord.
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God,” Leviticus 19:33-34.