As our class sings, “Head, shoulders, knees and toes!” my eyes go to the tiny toes poking through threadbare socks. My little friend isn’t without shoes because she is a stubborn three year old; she just doesn’t have any.
I mistakenly call a boy “she” for over an hour because his tattered, mislead by his pink floral clothing. But the lack of boyish clothes is the least of his mother’s concerns when they’ve spent years fleeing genocide and persecution.
It was his mom, in fact, who communicated in broken English that they had lived “like pigs” in the refugee camps, herded around in deplorable conditions. That was her reality for nearly 20 years.
I see bleak hints from their past everywhere: the young legless mother sitting in a wheelchair with a baby on her lap, the men with missing limbs and eyes.
I’m not on a trip to a third-world country. It’s just another day at our preschool.
It all started a few months ago. Word began to spread of refugee families in desperate need in our city.
Though safely distanced from the genocide of their homeland and the squalor of the camps, these people faced a new onslaught of severe obstacles. Groups were rallying to help, searching for ways to provide comfort. Recognizing a few acute needs, a couple of ladies formed ESL and business classes.
My season of life doesn’t afford free mornings alone to go teach classes and minister to women. My little ones are with me full time – my primary “ministry” – so if we are going to serve outside the home during the week, we’re going to do it together. That’s not everyone’s story or season, but it happens to be mine currently, and I’m grateful for that.
The aching need in front of me called out with a haunting question: “How will you respond?”
The answer rested in the children. The student-refugees attending the classes were also mothers, and they had children running around a bit chaotically while they tried to absorb lessons on acquiring a new language and starting a small business. That circumstance understandably complicated their already herculean task.
To take the little ones aside for their own class could be an immense gift to their mothers.
For a moment I was daunted by the thought of taking on childcare. I didn’t necessarily feel qualified and it would require organization and commitment. But then this came… My strength is made perfect in your weakness.
Ah, yes. Of course. But is it safe for my children? What about sickness, or lice? And we’ll miss naptime and it’s a long drive and a lot of gas money and I don’t know how all these details will fall into place.
But then… Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Was my scripture study on “Trust” last year without reason? Doesn’t every great story in the Bible begin when God urges his people to step into the daunting, the seemingly impossible, and lean into his comfort – the true kind of comfort that’s not man made?
Don’t we often face the Battle of Comforts? We forfeit the profound life-changing experience of witnessing God’s provision through us, and to us, when we are focused on pursuing our own worldly comfort.
So what began with a long, nervous drive to our first visit, which felt a little crazy, has transformed into a natural rhythm of our days and weeks. It’s now just “preschool,” and of course my boys simply see the children in our class as friends, as it should be.
We sing and dance around the room with instruments. We read books aloud, color, write our alphabet, and paint. Snack time is always a highlight. And there are lots of hugs.
Our family is learning more with each visit. I’m floored with gratitude for the opportunity to meet some small but immediate needs in the hurting world, while at the same time nurturing and teaching my own sons in the process.
God is using these refugees to display his breathtaking love to me. I don’t know why I’m so taken by joy on the cold floor singing silly song with kids. I can’t explain why I tear up almost every time I talk about them. I’m desperate for more ways to help, because when it’s our friends who are “the poor,” we don’t mind getting our hands dirty, do we?
Meeting needs will look different for all of us. For some it must be done within the walls of the home, where often the most sacrificial living takes place. For others it will be at the office. For a friend of mine, it’s the hospital where her daughter is undergoing chemo and she interacts with anxious parents daily. And another friend and her family have devoted years to troubled youth in the inner city.
But the common chord we can all cling to is this: The Comforter is on the move, for our joy, and for the good of others.
The Father of mercies comforts us, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.
But to receive that life-changing comfort often means stepping into the uncomfortable. And that’s where I’m prone to pull up short.
When we respond to Jesus’ call act mercifully, it brings with it a beautiful symbiosis. The Spirit, our comforter, allows us to exchange our fleeting, self-made comforts of safety and savings for the profoundly life-changing comfort of resting in the sovereign care of our God. And in so doing, we actually get the privilege of sharing that same comfort with those we serve.
May God give us the vision and courage to make that trade when presented with the opportunity.