Not even a power outage could dampen the spirits of Jerry’s family as they eagerly surrounding a big red crate full of Christmas gifts from their American grandmother. The gifts went from Indiana to New Mexico to Uganda with a detour to the African bush and then made the journey to Jerry’s house via hours of public transportation through a torrential downpour. We planned a video chat so that Grandma could share in the joy of the moment. A cell phone that won’t hold a charge, a power outage from the storm and a flashlight was all they had, but it was still Christmas, in Africa in August.
A month prior I had less than two days to pack a crate and ship to the home of Jo, a friend I had only met by phone. She was going to Uganda and had agreed to meet my African son Jerry (who is a refugee living in exile with his family for the last eleven years) and deliver the package for the children. The only thing I shopped for was two refurbished cell phones so I could keep in contact with my African family. The rest of the gifts came from my basement!
Along the way I had collected eight stuffed animals. I wanted them to have a plush, squeezable bear they could hold on to until I could hold on to them. I took a picture of the animals and sent it to them asking each one to pick the one of their choice. David the eldest picked the big red bear. Jerry picked the red heart that said “love.” There was even a bear made from real beaver fur and each child put a claim on their favorite. I just had no way to send it to them until my high school friend Nancy introduced me to Jo.
As a writer and photographer, I have created cards and calendars as a way to share my photos. Each one in the family got a unique Christmas card I created from years gone by. Each card had a special prayer for each of the four children and for Jerry, his wife Zawadi, his half-sister Emiliane and his foster daughter Tumaini.
Family Comes In A Variety of Ways
Tumaini was conceived as a result of rape by rebel soldiers. She never knew her mother. An aunt and uncle raised her until one day they simply disappeared with no police investigation (unless you have money to pay for an investigation.) Jerry took her in and made her part of his family. This was my card to her: “My heart is broken for the way you were brought into this world and for the losses you have endured. Jerry and his family are showing you love and I am showing love to all of you. Here is my prayer for you dear girl. Lord Jesus you have sought and found us in various ways according to your will and perfect knowledge. Your spirit testifies with our spirit that we are your children. And just as you made Tumaini a part of Jerry’s family, you made them all a part of my family. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17). Far from being alone, this causes us to praise you for your glorious grace. The grace with which you have favored us as your beloved (Eph 1:6). We who deserve so little have been lavished with your love.”
Leave Everything In Order to Have Nothing
It was easy to share photos from around Indiana by sending years of calendar creations complete with motivational words of encouragement which is sorely needed while living in exile. The world ignores the refugee leaving him feeling desolate, desperate and hopeless. A refugee has no citizenship, no opportunity to provide for his family, little or no hope of ever reaching a safe land to live and a complete reliance on the mercy of God to provide. There are 86 million refugees in the world persecuted and so in fear for their lives, they leave everything in order to have nothing.
I sent a Christmas ornament that depicts the birth of Christ in the manger. I have collected these from year to year and ran out of room to display them. I guess the Lord knew this one needed to go to Africa. I don’t know where they will display it however. I did not see a table in their little two room flat. I also did not even see enough chairs for all to be seated at the same time. There are two rooms for eight of them to sleep in. Jerry mentioned that the two older girls sleep on pallets on the floor in the main room so that the young children have more air to breath while sleeping in the cramped quarters. We take so much for granted and fail to realize how fortunate we are to live in a free country that allows ample opportunity for all to work and provide for their families.
People Are Dying From Curable Infections
I sent them my books and DVDs on natural healing. Imagine you get an infection like a Diverticulitis attack that can cause a ruptured colon. Imagine, you have no car, you have no money to take a taxi and you have no money to pay for the services if you could actually get to a doctor. Many refugees die from curable conditions because they do not have access to medical care. A simple urinary tract infection could surely take a person out. We take antibiotics for granted in the US but there are millions dying for lack of money to pay for medical services and antibiotics.
My refugee family surely does not want to live this way. Jerry is well educated with a degree in Information Technology. He is fluent in four languages. In the eleven years he has been in exile, he is not hired for work because of his refugee status. He works tirelessly to organize the refugee community in order to improve conditions in this bleak and hopeless life.
The Story Continues
Since I met Jerry in 2017, I have learned about the lives of refugees and written about it. We have been praying together since then. I was recently able to start helping them financially at just the moment when life became the most difficult and they were desperate and hope was nowhere to be found. God works through ordinary people willing to listen to His call. Many have helped me over the last few years and now I am able to help Jerry. There is a deficit of love in our world and I chose to be a tiny spark that will fill the gaps and release the power and glory of God in our lives and in our communities. I know how it made a world of difference for this family.
A big red box full of love connected hearts around the world. What started with a request to help Jerry write stories about refugee youth has developed into a relationship that is defined as family. Jerry, Zawadi, Emiliane and Tumaini have all lost their parents and most all their family. We are living proof that we can become family and love each other across the miles, across the cultures, across the racial divides where skin color makes absolutely no difference at all. We all want to be loved and we all want to provide for our families and we all want to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas (in Africa in August.)
Joseph-L David-Center Hope-R
Christmas In The Dark By Flashlight
Polly Riddell, writing as G. Polly Jordan is a freelance journalist connecting people through the stories they tell. She knows love is the universal language.
Read the entire African Refugee series at TheStoryTeller.net