As you remember special events in your life, do you find that certain memories stand out as “the best” because they always make you feel warm and fuzzy whenever you recall them? Our family often plays the “Best of” game when we get back together for holidays…lights low, candle glowing in the middle of the room (not much has changed since prehistoric cave times)…sharing the best of what we’ve experienced and learned from the past months. As I reflect back on my experience of working with a team from our church trying to alleviate suffering and share the love of God with hurting refugees, I find that what brings back the deepest joy and warmth are my memories of the day we spent scrubbing. Our host had been praying about ways to help out, and he felt inspired to ask a group of about 80+ young men who’d taken over an abandoned building if they’d like help cleaning, but he was a little concerned that they might be offended. Instead, they were thrilled. These men have pretty much nothing and are looking for work, but they said that they’d just taken up a collection the day before and got enough money for a mop, a bucket, and a bottle of dish soap. We didn’t take pictures inside lest the men feel humiliated, so I can’t share any of those images that would tell more than a thousand words, but you might be able to imagine their excitement when we arrived with all sorts of cleaning supplies and broke into teams to clean up. My partner in grime was Silas, and together we tried to transform the little kitchen area and bathrooms. Another team washed years of dirt off windows to bring the light of day into the dingy building, and another team swept, washed, and cleaned the hallways and other public areas. I don’t understand the social system in France, but there was electricity and water in the building (even though the squatters’-right tenants weren’t paying for it), so we filled the overhead light sockets with bulbs and left lots of toilet paper, soap, cleaning supplies, trash cans, and other items considered bare necessities for those of us in the West. I also want you to know that the guys didn’t just stand around and watch, either! Those who weren’t out looking for work helped out with enthusiasm! After a hard day’s day, our host family provided a really wonderful meal of chicken with rice and broth, salad, soft drinks and water, and even chocolate chip cookies for dessert. (Can you imagine the cost and labor of love it was to prepare for such a feast for about 100 people?) Some asked for bowls to take up to some who were too sick to come down. Everyone was kind and thankful. After the meal, we asked if we could sing a few songs, which they seemed to enjoy…songs like “Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow,” etc. We asked if they would like to sing for us, but they didn’t know songs. They are almost exclusively Muslim, and apparently they do chant-like prayers in their mosques but don’t sing hymns and choruses the way Christians do. At any rate, during and after dinner the men were warm and very open. Most of them knew just enough English to be able to converse with us a little, and I heard many heart-breaking stories about their lives before escaping to France. One man showed me a gash running up his entire arm where a soldier had tried to kill him (and had left him for dead), and there were many horror stories of civil war and murder…of family killed and family still back in various north African countries. Each man had hopes of finding work and eventually being able to bring his family (or what remained of it) to France, where they could be free from terror and annihilation. One man told me he escaped with only 2 things— his father’s Koran and his mother’s Bible. It broke my heart but also filled me with joy to see these guys fighting for life, trying to figure things out, and wanting to make life better. Isn’t that the cry of all our hearts? No wonder if was my favorite day. 🙂(Note that this young man’s hands were badly burned, but he’s still able to laugh with us. Once the guys noticed that somebody had a cell phone, they actually wanted us to take pictures and had lots of fun looking at them!)
“Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
“This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
“Out in the dark
I’m gonna let it shine.
Out in the dark
I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
(—Harry Dixon Loes)
(Many thanks to Paul and Shannon W. for letting me use their pictures, not only today but scattered throughout these posts on our trip. You two are awesome!!)