For my last assignment as an Exodus January intern, I delivered a bag of warm clothes to a newly arrived family from the Congo. They had been in the States for three days.
I stepped into their apartment at 5 o’clock and was met by a warm greeting and smile. The father limped to the door, aided by one of those medical contraptions that grips your leg in its vice while you hold it like a cane.
The mother sat on the couch next to their small daughter. The daughter looked about six and had brightly colored beads wrapped into her bouncy pigtails.
I delivered the clothes with a smile and then made to leave. The father stopped me. He said that their caseworker hadn’t yet been to visit them, but had promised to come today.
He thought I was their caseworker.
He thought I had come to visit.
I tried to help fix their phone line and teach them how to use a rice cooker (at which I failed miserably). But what they really wanted was a friend.
In broken English (actually, it was pretty good, but he called it bad), the father told me that he came to the U.S. to learn English and have neighbors. He was lonely. His family was lonely.
I was desperate. This family needed friends. I called the caseworkers at Exodus, but they were with other clients. The demand for help is so great and the staff so thinly spread. Sometimes what seem like true necessities (clothing, electricity) obscure other necessities from view – necessities like fellowship.
No one could come to see this family tonight. Neither could I; I was expected at home and, when I called my mom to explain the situation, she asked me to come home quickly because the sky was darkening and the roads were icing up in our neighborhood. She wanted me safe.
I told the Congolese family that I couldn’t stay and was very sorry. They let me go with a, “God bless you.” The father walked me to the door and raised his hand when I turned around at my car.
I said goodbye and walked away from my winter with these refugees.
I felt sorrow.
I want to come back.