Emmanuel is the only friend from seminary that I still talk to and visit. He opened his home to us last spring break, made sure we ate way too much, and insisted we stay longer, even though we came on hardly any notice on a very busy weekend. He and his wife are two of the smartest people I have ever met. She is an engineer and they both know multiple languages. When Emmanuel was struggling in seminary his reason put me in awe…he would listen to the lecture in English, translate it to French and then into his native tongue. When he wrote papers he would do the same backwards. I could barely understand the original English sometimes, let alone translate it four times for an assignment!
But more than their intelligence, Emanuel and his family have great hearts. He not only befriended me, but welcomed me into his life beyond school. He welcomed our family into his church, and then into the fellowship afterwards. Nick and I are notorious for being the last to leave a gathering, but we were the first to leave as they ate and talked until 2 in the morning. As Nick and I left and saw the cars lining the streets around their house, I said, “I have never been to such a big party where the neighbors weren’t frustrated by noise.”
The reason I am sharing about my friend is that he and his wife are refugee immigrants, who fled a civil war in their country. As I hear friends in rural Indiana concerned about national security side with the recent ban on immigrants and refugees, I think about Emmanuel and his story. Emmanuel has shared with me how when the war came to his city he and other innocent people fled to mountain forests. He shared with me how they ate the leaves of trees, and when they would run into someone they used to know they wouldn’t recognize each other because they were starving now. I think of how he lost track of the love of his life for over a decade. I think of the shame he had that it was his tribe that committed the greatest atrocities of the war, and the pride he had when he shared that in the midst of that, he never hurt a soul.
I am eternally grateful that Emmanuel and his family received refuge in the United States. His family are part of our extended family now. They have made our lives better. He has helped me to see that the kind of person I want to be is possible as a pastor. He and his family have made our country better.
I can’t imagine if he would have been turned away at our borders. I can imagine why. He identified with the “villains,” though he never was one. That is the scary part. What is even scarier is that if each of us looked into our ancestry we would discover we came from “dangerous people.” Perhaps because of our country of origin, perhaps because of our faith. That is why it is important for us to be open. Because when we look into the eyes of refugees, we see ourselves and God calls us to “love others as we love ourselves.” For me, the refugee ban has a face, and that face is my brother in Christ. It is a face of innocence, kindness, hospitality, and brilliance.