It was a dreary winter afternoon when I pulled up to Alaat’s apartment. She had invited me over for lunch for the first time and I was excited and a little nervous as I anticipated our meal together. The only interactions we had were over zoom so a meet-up in person was new territory. I entered her home and was greeted with a warm hug. She introduced me to her children, showed me around her home, and then we sat down for our meal. She prepared an incredible meal of Capsa, Fatoosh salad, smoothies, and all the sweets you could ever imagine, just for the two of us.
That afternoon as we sat and talked, she began to share very openly that she was aching for home and struggling to care for her children alone. Her husband had recently returned to Yemen without them, leaving her to be the sole caretaker of their three children. She missed how life used to be and the stability she once had. She always ended each statement with such hope and optimism, but you could hear the struggle in her voice. Things were not easy and there was still a lot of pain.
She is an incredible person with dreams and goals but has had little control over her life for a long time. She is lonely, missing home, and yearning for what life used to be. As I left her home that day I so badly wanted her to understand that she is a beloved child of God. God is her provider, deliverer, and hope. So often I feel like I need to say all the right things and heal her wounds. Offer advice or a way out of the struggle, but that is not my job. My job is to love her, to hear her story, and point her back to Jesus. I am not capable or meant to do any of the healing or transforming power. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in her life and the strength of the Lord that will turn those wounds into beautiful scars.
I have learned that in working with the diaspora I can do nothing out of my own strength. I cannot be the change they need. God is the one true deliverer, I can be a vessel! When I hear the stories of pain, loss, frustration, and struggle, my heart aches and I think about all the other people whose stories could be similar. What can I do to help? I will never understand their pain. I will never experience the same kind of loss. How could God use me?
What I was struck with after leaving Alaat’s house was, she didn't need me or ask me to fix anything. She did not seek a solution or change. What she needed was a friend. She needed a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. She needed someone who would commit to pray for her. All of the things I try and conjure up, fix, and perfect are worthless if God is not in them. Sometimes the one thing God asks us to do might be the hardest. In those places when it feels better to just get to work and fix it, he wants us to sit with it and cry. What could it look like if we stopped fixing and tried listening?
It is in those moments of listening, that Christ-followers can offer the gift of hope. They can help their friends discover that they can leave their pain, grief, and loneliness at the feet of Jesus. If we as believers avoid the diaspora because we do not understand, we miss the opportunity to offer the hope. If we fear offending someone and don’t share, we hide a beautiful treasure from those we love.
Since working with the diaspora, I am learning that being a Christ-follower has little to do with me and everything to do with others. Philippians 2 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” In order to share the gift with our friends, we must submit our selfishness and fully surrender ourselves to put others' needs before our own.
What could it look like to think of others before yourself? What if God put the diaspora in our lives intentionally to teach us about true and humble sacrifice and the tangible hope that Christ has to offer.