Almost 20 years ago, Amy and I bought a breakfast table and chairs set for our new home in Gibsonville, NC. It wasn’t fancy or costly, but it survived almost 20 years of meals, card games, school projects, and a couple of moves. There were the accompanying scrapes and scratches that time brings to any piece of furniture, but the table and chairs still came with us to our new home in Roanoke, Virginia last fall. However, for the first time in those 20 years, the table and chairs just never looked right in our home. We had talked several times that maybe the time had finally come to let the set go. Several times, we went into furniture stores and almost walked out with a new table. Several times, phone calls were made to arrange for some local charity to come haul the old table and chairs away. Every time, we would change our mind. So the table and chairs remained where they had been since we had moved in last December. But still, they just didn’t look like they belonged.
Like so many of us, Amy and I watched the images these past couple of weeks coming from Afghanistan. We heard the stories of parents desperately trying to get their children onto airplanes, into hands that could hopefully protect them. I followed on social media the stories of CBF Field Personnel Kim & Marc Wyatt, read the stories of the individuals and churches that were coming together to provide a welcoming and safe place for the refugees that are arriving daily. As pastor of Melrose Baptist Church, I gathered information to share with my congregation about ways we could participate in these efforts in our own city as well as state- and nation-wide.
Then, just a couple of nights ago, Amy looked at me and said, “I wonder if Catholic Charities (the agency in our area working most closely with refugee resettlement) could use a table and chairs?” I called them on Wednesday morning and talked to Becky. She shared with me that they were actually moving an Afghan family into a home on Friday. “Can you just bring the table and chairs to the house Friday morning?” I said I would figure out a way – the table and chairs wouldn’t fit in my car. That night, at our church prayer meeting, I shared about some of the opportunities to minister to refugee families. One of my church members, Don, met me as soon as we finished praying and said, “I have a truck and will help deliver any furniture anywhere it needs to go.” I immediately remembered hearing a pastor once say, “If you want see how amazing the work of our Lord is, just dare Him to use you.”
Just a couple of hours ago, Don, Amy, and I delivered and set up the table and chairs in the new home of a family of 7. We arrived before the relief agency did with the rest of the furniture, so when we carried the table and chairs into the house, the only things there were 3 or 4 boxes containing the hygiene kits, cleaning supplies and kitchen supplies that they had received when they first arrived. The husband helped us set everything up as the wife cooked in the kitchen and the 5 children watched us work and looked at the big mountain they now live at the bottom of. When we finished getting the table together, the husband offered us his hand to shake, said thank you with a beautiful smile on his face, and then invited us to sit with them at their new table and eat.
I may never write a more beautiful sentence in my life than that last one.
As we left, we said goodbye to each of the children. I thought about what the last few days and weeks must have been like for them, and what the days and weeks ahead will bring. I earnestly pray that they will find in their new home, their new city, a peace and a hope that at one point may have seemed like a pipe dream. I hope that their new neighbors will share the same smiles with them that they shared with us. I prayed for the thousands of other children and men and women who, as my Christian brother Tim observed, find themselves having to live in a space of total dependency that most of us would never dare to choose for ourselves. But, more than anything, I prayed that God would continue to soften the hearts and souls of His people, that we would remember the words of our Savior when we think of the refugee – “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” We are welcoming our Savior when we open our home to the refugee, when we put together the hygiene kits or the cleaning kits, when we prepare the meal for our new neighbors, when we donate the furniture for their new home, or when we extend the hand of fellowship to someone who may not look like us or share our language but was created in the same image of God as you and I. Don said it best when we walked out the door – “This is what the Lord wants us to be doing right now.”
For the first time since we came to Roanoke, I finally looked at that table and those chairs and felt like they were where they belonged all along. May the fellowship of the Kingdom be what is found at that table and so many more.
“And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” – Luke 13:29