The baggage claim area was virtually empty. A few travelers waited wearily for their bags or their rides amongst the cold chairs which lined the bare and translucent walls. I stared intently at the arrival monitor, glistening in contrast to the darkness of the near midnight sky which was at odds with the fluorescent light. As I squinted for their information, a large Arab family squirmed below the TVs, antsy yet tired, just like the rest.
I checked their status. On time.
I went to one of the many solitary chairs and waited for the carousel to signal their arrival. A friend of mine showed up and waited with me.
Our church was recently connected to a ministry which comes alongside refugee families to support them practically, emotionally, and spiritually. Their signature “program” is to have churches adopt a family and aid them in the assimilation process. In faith, after we heard the executive director’s story, a small group from our church decided to take the plunge – a plunge into the unknown darkness, expecting the Light to guide us in the process.
My friend and I were the representatives from our team to meet the family – a Syrian Muslim family of nine – as they arrived from Jordan. As soon as my friend sat next to me in the baggage claim area, she said, “Is that the family underneath the arrival screens?”
“It couldn’t be.” I said. “They aren’t supposed to arrive for another 10 minutes, and their flight is on time.”
Unsure of things at this point, we called one of the case workers for the family. He informed us the family had arrived, and the father was already waiting for us outside the terminal with another case worker. We hurried outside, and there they were, with the family’s 10 bags littered around the father’s feet.
As my feet moved quickly to meet the father, my mind raced even faster: does he or the family speak English? will they need help driving the family to their apartment? was that our family I unknowingly stood in front of at the arrival monitor? do I shake their hands or is that culturally unacceptable?
Cautious and anxious, my friend and I reached the father and case worker. As the father’s faint and weary smile beamed out of the corners of his mouth as he shook my hand, the fear and confusion which welled up in my mind washed away. Here stood a man, tired as any man would be after a 24 hour journey, who wished for a safe and comfortable place for his jet-lagged family to sleep.
As pleasantries were exchanged with the translation help of the case workers, I was informed I would need to drive some of the family to their apartment. We crammed four people and their bags in my little Mazda and hopped on the freeway in silence. Other than the faint noise of road construction and the soft hum of the radio, all that was heard and communicated between us was the warmth of smiles and the quiet, slow breathing of resting children.
We arrived at their new home around midnight. As we walked through the door and showed them around the apartment my church and others furnished, an overwhelming sense of relief became present in the family. Filled with gratitude, the father, with a face marked with the exhaustion of a disheveled life abroad, shook my hand firmly, yet compassionately, and said in Arabic:
“شكرا” (Thank you).