I must have clumsily asked that question a dozen times, mostly because my Farsi is non-existent and I had to keep repeating myself to be understood.
“Black tea or green?” Over and over again.
Wednesdays are a little different at the refugee center: only women in the building, a more relaxed atmosphere, and lots and lots of hot tea.
I knew deep down as we started the day that something significant was happening. I had been feeling it all week, and I sensed it even more so with each handshake and kiss exchanged as the refugee women filed in.
As we settled in with our tea, our hostess, an incredible woman who has served at the center for several years, explained to our guests that the door was locked and only women were in the building – no men would be joining us. At this news, a few of the women slowly unpinned their headscarves and shook out their hair, an act that immediately made my eyes water.
The ladies on our team came prepared with supplies for skin treatments and nail painting. We waited, almost breathlessly, as one by one, the women who came to the center that day surrendered their hands to be exfoliated and massaged. They seemed unsure at first, probably just as unsure as we must have seemed to them too. There were lots of shared smiles and awkward giggles as the language barrier seemed to grow, but we pressed on, American women and Afghan women side by side, determined to share the morning and the experience.
I sat across from a young girl, “M,” who was probably no more than fourteen, and I rubbed her hands gently, trying not to disrupt the sores on her skin. M closed her eyes and smiled as I rinsed the treatment from her hands and dried them. As I painted her nails, I couldn’t help but think that for most American teen girls, this was a regular occurrence. For M, however, it clearly wasn’t the norm. She was relishing it.
We taught the ladies how to play Spoons (after their freshly painted nails had dried, obviously), and the atmosphere quickly moved from subdued and relaxed to raucous and filled with laughter. With every round of cards, the walls continued to break down.
We moved on to lunch, and then more tea was poured. As we sipped and sat together, our hostess played a Bible passage in the ladies’ heart language, and she began to share about how Jesus came to serve instead of being served, telling the women how He showed His love as He washed His followers’ feet. I couldn’t understand any of the words our hostess said, but I understood what she shared. The tears I had been holding back were threatening to spill over. She asked the women how we could pray for them, and suddenly any effort to keep from crying was absolutely useless.
These precious, beautiful women shared hurts and fears with us, and as they listed out their petitions, my tears kept flowing faster and faster. I was overwhelmed and overcome with an ache for these women to know Christ, to meet Jesus, to lean on a very real and very personal God who longs for nothing more than to be in a relationship with them.
I prayed over these ladies in English, and our hostess prayed in Farsi, both of us asking the Lord to give these women His unexplainable peace and comfort in the midst of living on the very brink of danger. We prayed that they would find favor as they navigated the trenches of life as a refugee, that they would have very tangible encounters with Christ and with people who follow Him, and that these women would meet people who would share His love and grace again and again.
When I looked up from our prayer time, I saw that I wasn’t the only one with tears on my face. Americans and Afghans alike, we were all moved by the presence of the Spirit in that shared, sacred space. We hugged and kissed and took pictures together, and the ache didn’t lessen inside of me.
It still hasn’t, even a week later and 6,000 miles further from that place and that moment, and I’m convinced that it won’t.
I want to stand side by side with these women, knowing that they are my sisters in Christ. I want each of them to know what it is to have a fixed point in the midst of tragedy and chaos, heartache and hopelessness. I want them to have what I’ve been given and to know the same way I do that the God of the Universe so intimately and deeply cares for me in my everydayness.
One Wednesday. So many cups of tea. Smiles. Hugs. Tears. I won’t soon forget my time at the refugee center. In fact, I pray that I never do.